Wisconsin’s New Social Host Law: An Important Tool to Prevent Underage Drinking
[Editor's Note: Sheriff Fitzgerald said that it should be noted that the Barron County Sheriff's Department did recently cite 19 youth ages 16-20 for underage drinking and cited the female host for 19 citations for this. Underage drinking numbers are up in 2018 already and the BCSD is going to ramp up their efforts to slow this down by promoting this new law and continuing to talk to the youth about the consequences of their actions. Most of the citations so far, Sheriff Fitzgerald said, are in the 18-19 yr old range.]
Everyone in Wisconsin who cares about raising drug and alcohol-free children should be happy to see the Governor sign a bill making it illegal to provide a location for underage drinking anywhere in Wisconsin. If you have any doubt that Wisconsin is committed to reducing underage drinking, consider this: This bipartisan bill passed on voice votes in both houses of the Legislature without dissent. Even in the current polarized political climate there was Legislative consensus that adults have a responsibility to prevent underage drinking in our homes. This bill and the local ordinances that mirror it support the millions of Wisconsin families who struggle to raise alcohol and drug-free children.
A separate law was needed because adults who provided a location for underage drinking – but not the alcohol – couldn’t be held responsible in most situations. Social host laws are useful tools in our efforts to reduce underage drinking. Wisconsin’s underage drinking rate dropped from 49% in 2005 to 33% in 2015. Along with alcohol age compliance checks and enthusiastic public education efforts, earlier social host ordinances played an important role in reducing youth access to alcohol.
Beginning in 2008, nearly 50 municipalities and counties adopted local social host ordinances making it a local offense to provide a location for underage drinking. Several ordinances carried extensive lists of locations such as field, outbuilding, docks and rooming houses. Many of these ordinances carried forfeitures of $1,000 for a first offense. In 2016 these local ordinances were made unenforceable by an Appellate Court decision.
This new law fills the gap created by that decision making any adult who provides a location for underage drinking anywhere in Wisconsin open to a $500 citation. Communities may adopt this language into local ordinances, allowing most of these violations to be handled in municipal court. The law is clear that adults who know about underage drinking or fail to prevent underage drinking on property under their control will be fined.
“This is a law the entire community can support.” said Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald. “There’s no excuse for any adult to allow underage drinking on their property."