County rejects Social Host Ordinance

Published

By Brett Larson, June 10, 2015

The Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, June 3, failed to approve a social host ordinance recommended by County Attorney Joe Walsh, County Sheriff Brent Lindgren and the Mille Lacs Area Partners for Prevention. The ordinance would have made it a misdemeanor to host or allow a party on public or private property where underage drinking takes place, regardless of who provides the alcohol.

Commissioner Roger Tellinghuisen made a motion to approve the ordinance, but the motion died for lack of a second. Commissioners Genny Reynolds and Tim Wilhelm of Princeton and Board Chair Phil Peterson of Milaca chose not to second the motion. Commissioner Dave Oslin of Isle was absent from the meeting.

On May 19, the board held a public hearing to receive input on adoption of a social host ordinance, which would have made it illegal to host a party where underage drinking occurs.

The Mille Lacs Area Partners for Prevention encouraged the board to adopt the ordinance. Amber Kent said 10 youth and several adult coalition members attended the hearing, and some of the youth testified in favor of the ordinance. Kent said, “Of course there were some there that were opposed to the ordinance that got up and spoke as well, but that was good as we were then able to provide supportive arguments for their concerns.” Letters of support and opposition were also read aloud.

The group tried to dispel myths about the ordinance by emphasizing several points:

  • Individuals cannot be charged if they did not know 
about an underage drinking party.
  • Parents cannot be charged for allowing or permitting alcohol use by their own child while present in their own h-household.
  • This does not apply to legally protected religious observances.
  • Individuals cannot be charged if they take steps to prevent the underage drinking once they realize it is occurring.
  • The MAPP group, which is chaired and co-chaired by Band employees Amanda Nickaboine and Byron Ninham, also made the following points in advocating for the ordinance:

  • 90 percent of community adults disapprove of high school youth drinking alcohol.
  • OVER 100 towns and cities in MN have already adopted social hosts ordinances.
  • 26 counties in MN have adopted a social host ordinance.
  • MN youth who drink alcohol monthly or more often are at least 6 times more likely to have used marijuana or abused prescription drugs not prescribed to them.
  • 85 percent of community adults are concerned about the harm from underage drinking.
  • 46 percent of Mille Lacs county 11th grade students who reported consuming alcohol in the past 30 days said they obtained the alcohol from parties.
  • 100 percent of local law enforcement officers agree their communities should adopt a social host ordinance.
  • A Social Host Ordinance will help the many youth who don’t drink feel supported in their choice NOT to.
  • According to a MAPP brochure on the social host ordinance, “Underage use of alcohol has many adverse individual, social, and economic impacts on a community. Law enforcement reports it is often difficult to determine the actual provider, but often times there is someone who knowingly hosts, allows, or provides a venue for this illegal activity. -
  • Communities have found that imposing criminal responsibility on social hosts has a deterrent effect and reduces the number of underage drinking parties.”

In an email to MAPP members after the vote, Amber Kent said, “Though this outcome is disheartening and not the way we wanted it to go, I want to remind you that having the SHO come to this point and the conversation it has created in the community is a success! Years ago we couldn’t even get our commissioners to bring it to a public hearing.”