Blaine County Considers Law To Punish Parents Who Let Kids Drink

Dec 30, 2014

Imagine you’re a parent and your teenager says ‘I want to have a party and I want to serve alcohol.’ Many parents would answer, not just 'no,' but 'hell no.'

But Blaine County’s sheriff says his officers are called to parent-supervised teen keggers a couple times a year. If the adults supplied booze the officers can write a ticket. Sheriff Gene Ramsey wants to be able to cite parents just for knowing about the drinking.

Credit Laura Taylor / Flickr Creative Commons

Blaine County commissioners are considering what’s known as a ‘social hosting’ ordinance that would fine -- and on subsequent offenses give jail time to -- adults who host parties where minors drink alcohol.

Social hosting laws have grown in popularity in communities throughout the country in the last few years according to an NPR report.

One study finds most teens who host drinking parties say their parents know about them. And another recent study shows that communities with social hosting laws have less teen drinking than ones that don’t.

Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen says this resort area which includes Sun Valley, Ketchum and Hailey definitely has a problem.

“There are lots of social events here and a culture of having a good time,” Schoen says. “I think the evidence is clear that there’s a higher rate of drug and alcohol use in our community than elsewhere. So, having a law on the books that gives the message that drug and alcohol use among youth won’t be tolerated, is part of a bigger strategy to reduce drug and alcohol use among youth.”

Some parents argue that teen drinking is inevitable, and they’d rather their kids drank with some adult supervision.

Keith Roark, a defense attorney who reviewed the social hosting ordnance for the county, calls the proposal a solution in search of a problem. Roark says current laws are sufficient for holding parents responsible.

He says even if an ordinance was needed, the wording in the one under consideration is too vague to be useful.  

Schoen says the wording has been carefully crafted with input from the sheriff, county prosecutor and other lawyers. But he says it still needs input from the public.

The Blaine County Commission has held one public hearing on the proposed law and has another scheduled for January 13. Commissioners expect a big turnout.

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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