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New Pipestone County law holds adults accountable for underage drinking, drug use

Image Source: MGN
Image Source: MGN(KALB)
Published: Sep. 5, 2018 at 11:07 PM CDT
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A new ordinance passed unanimously by Pipestone County Commission last week, called the 'Social Host Ordinance' holds adults accountable for providing alcohol to minors or owning the property where they know minors are consuming alcohol or using drugs.

County leaders said the new law isn't about getting people in trouble it's about prevention and safety.

It's already a crime in Minnesota to provide alcohol to people underage, but it can be hard to prove, so the new law keeps adults more accountable.

"What this ordinance does, is make it a misdemeanor for any property owner that either hosts themselves or knowingly allows a group of juveniles to engage in behaviors where they're consuming alcohol or controlled substances on the property," said Erica Volkir, Director of the Pipestone Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Pipestone Area Coalition, or PAC.

The county could've just passed a new law, but Commissioner Dan Wildermuth said the effort to prevent underage drinking is bigger than just drafting an ordinance.

"Health and Human services has a grant they were applied for, that provided alcohol awareness training in the communities," Wildermuth said. "We don't feel we have a real specific problem but we wanted to get out ahead of it."

The PAC is funded as part of that grant. It's made up of community members and students, "STARS" for short, or Students Taking a Right Stand, who want to make a difference in the community.

"When we first talked some of the initiatives of this grants, this social host ordinance came up," said Steve Beekman, the PAC coordinator.

You may think convincing teens that drinking is a bad idea is a hard sell, but Beekman said, it wasn't a surprise to him that this group of teens, the STARS, were behind the passing the new law..

"These students that I work with every day are amazing," Beekman said. "And they really just see it as, 'Hey, this is something that we can keep others safe, keep our peers safe,' and they just really wanna do whatever they can to keep others safe in the community."

The grant also helps with funding for programs in county schools on substance abuse prevention and more, such as advertising on billboards, and 'ice breaker' packets parents can use to talk to their kids. So this new ordinance is just a small piece of the puzzle in prevention.

"Whatever we can do to help ensure that our youth are safe and set up for success that makes our job that much easier," Volkir said. "Because they will be our future workforce and future community leaders, also our future residents."

All three said many people in the county were invested in the ordinance from the Sheriff's Office to both the city and county attorney and others who just thought finding a better way to hold adults accountable was a good idea. Still, they said they're hoping the law never actually has to be applied. They'd prefer it just being there is enough of a deterrent to keep adults from supplying a space or alcohol to juveniles.

They said the goal of the grant is to focus on the positive by encouraging teens and adults to do the right thing. The PAC also said their research shows, most students in the county don't drink alcohol, but the perception among students is that they do, which can encourage underage substance abuse. The goal is to address that misperception.

There are exceptions to the law, such as when an underage child is with his or her parents and having a glass of wine at dinner with them, that would not violate the social host law.