Bill would fine parents who host underage drinking parties

Bill would fine parents who host underage drinking parties

Parents or other adults in Wisconsin could be fined for hosting underage drinking parties under a new bill at the state Capitol.

Rep. Andre Jacque, R-DePere, has reintroduced a bill from last session that would prohibit an adult from “knowingly permitting or failing to take action to prevent” underage drinking on their property.

Currently state law says adults can’t serve alcohol to those under 21 on their property, but the Supreme Court has interpreted that to mean specifically licensed premises with liquor licenses. The bill would clarify that the prohibition also applies to homes.

Parents can be fined for providing alcohol to a minor, but law enforcement officers must prove that the adult purchased the drinks. In this case, adults can be fined simply for allowing drinking on their property.

“We might not just be talking parents, we might be talking just an adult who is otherwise essentially sponsoring underage drinking, which we know oftentimes people drive from those parties and can have very tragic circumstances,” Jacque said in an interview Monday.

Parents who violate the bill and host a party could be subject to a $500 fine per underage person.

The bill is especially timely in Dane County, where the sheriff says deputies responded to multiple house parties over the holiday break.

Mahoney says they’re still investigating a New Year’s Eve party in the Springdale, where deputies weren’t let on the property by the owners. Deputies said they stopped a 17-year-old leaving the home and recorded 18 cars in the driveway.

“Our deputies responded to a fairly large house party where there was alcohol and adults who provided the alcohol,” Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said.

Mahoney said that’s not an uncommon occurrence, and he supports changes in the law to make it clear that parents and adults should not be sanctioning drinking parties.

“The problem is that there is significant liability that goes along with making that decision,” Mahoney said. “If adults continue to make that decision they need to understand that they’re jeopardizing their security and safety in allowing that to occur.”

Some communities statewide have taken their own efforts to create “social hosting” ordinances to fine parents who host drinking parties. In Dane County, the community of Oregon passed an ordinance in 2012 that could fine parents up to $2,000.

Jacque said there’s concern among those communities that the ordinances would not hold up in court unless state law is changed to support the language.

He proposed a similar bill in 2013 that passed an Assembly committee 7-1, but did not get a vote on the floor.

He’s hopeful the bill may move forward in the next couple months.