Social host law to take effect in Iowa

Adults who knowingly allow underage drinking could face stiff penalties when a new Iowa law goes into effect Tuesday.

The social host law means that anyone who provides a place for teenagers 17 and younger to drink alcohol can be charged with a simple misdemeanor and fined $200.

The law gives law enforcement officials one more tool to help deter dangerous behavior, said Kathy Getting, coalition director of Hamilton County’s Power Up YOUth.

Power Up is one of many allied coalitions across the state that has advocated for this law for at least four years now, Getting said.

“We know that most parents don’t want their children to be drinking, but also – we know most of the youth report getting alcohol at parties,” Getting said.

In fact, about 20 percent of youth said they knew an adult who allowed underage drinking parties, according to a survey conducted by her group.

“It’s one more thing we can use,” said Fort Dodge Assistant Chief Kevin Doty. “We’re going to try to determine who’s in control of the residence, and we can use the new statute to help us get their attention.

“Ultimately, we want to change behavior. Unfortunately, sometimes somebody getting arrested or getting a citation is the only way they change that behavior.”

Doty said he hopes the law will serve as a deterrent.

“It’s not a pleasant thing for the medical examiner or for us to have to go to a parent’s home and tell them their child has been injured or killed in an alcohol-related accident,” Doty said.

“I think parents think it’s not going to happen, but it could happen. We want to reduce that risk.”

In Fort Dodge, “I don’t know that underage drinking has grown, but I think it still is a problem,” he said.

“We’re not trying to get people in trouble,” added Mickie Shubin, prevention specialist at Community Family Resources. “We’re trying to get them to stop the practice of giving people under the age of 21 alcohol.”

Several communities throughout Iowa, such as Webster County and Randall, already have similar ordinances in place. This new law will not affect them.

Parents may still permit their own children to drink alcohol on their own property as before. Also, if teens drink alcohol at a party the adult knows nothing about, they will not be charged.

However, an adult who knows a party is going on and that there will be drinking can be held accountable.

“If a parent takes steps, or the adult takes steps to prevent youth access to alcohol, and if the kids are sneaky enough to circumvent it, they have some defense,” said Getting.

Landlords will also not be held responsible for drinking they don’t know about on their property.

Shubin is coordinator of a Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant, which was awarded to Hamilton County in 2011 to help combat underage drinking.

Around that time, Webster City adopted its own social host ordinance.

The statewide law could have gone farther, Shubin said. The Webster City and Randall laws apply to anyone under 21, not under 18 as with the statewide law.

“The state law actually had ‘under the legal age’ as well when they first tried to get it passed, but that’s one of things that had to be changed in order for it to pass,” she said. “This is a step in the right direction.”

The grant was awarded due to a study which showed Hamilton County ranked 21st in the state for underage and binge drinking. Webster County ranks 41, Shubin said.

“Drinking at a younger age leads to a greater risk for alcohol dependence, alcohol abuse,” said Getting. “It’s 1 in 4 kids if you start drinking at age 14. Each year you wait to begin drinking, the risks go down, until it flattens out at age 21, where it is 1 in 10 people.”

In addition to the danger of drunk driving, underage drinking can lead to STDs, sexual assaults, violence, unplanned pregnancy or alcohol poisoning, she said.