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Underage Drinking Ordinance Goes into Effect January 13

Underage Drinking Ordinance Goes into Effect January 13
In January 2011, the City Council chose to examine policy issues that impact underage drinking on Mercer Island and placed the consideration of an "Underage Drinking Ordinance" on their annual work plan. Later in the year, after a presentation to the City Council Public Safety Committee, the Mercer Island Communities That Care Coalition (MICTC) formally recommended the Council adopt such an ordinance. Often referred to a "social host ordinance", this type of ordinance creates civil liability for property owners who either allow, or turn a blind eye to, underage drinking parties. This type of ordinance has been found effective in creating a safer environment for youth by reducing the number of gatherings where unsafe behaviors like binge drinking typically occur. After further public deliberation by the City Council, the "Mercer Island Underage Drinking Ordinance" was adopted at the December 5 Council meeting. The ordinance goes into effect January 13, 2012.
 
To download a copy of the Mercer Island Underage Drinking Ordinance, click here.
 
To view a video archive of the December 5 meeting, click here and select "Underage Home Drinking Ordinance (2nd Reading)" under Regular Business. 
 
What the ordinance does:
  • Defines "underage persons" as individuals under 19 years of age (strictly for the purpose of this ordinance).
  • Prohibits "underage gatherings" or parties of four or more persons at a property where alcohol is consumed by underage person(s).
  • Holds person(s) who owns, rents, leases or has right to control the property where an underage gathering occurs in violation of the ordinance.
  • Results in a civil infraction with a penalty of $250 (per violation) for violation of the ordinance.
  • Recognizes that underage alcohol consumption creates a public health risk, as it is linked to increased automobile accidents, suicide, and physical and sexual assault.
What the ordinance does not do:
  • Override other laws including those against furnishing alcohol to minors and "minors in possession."
  • Apply to landlords or lessors unless they themselves host the underage gathering.
  • Apply when the only underage persons consuming alcohol are minors that are supervised in person by their parent or guardian or as part of a religious service (per state law).
Unlike other Washington laws regarding underage drinking, this new Mercer Island City ordinance holds the responsible individual(s) liable for "underage gatherings" on their property regardless of whether or not they were aware that underage alcohol consumption was taking place. 
   
During public deliberations, MICTC highlighted that a vast majority of Island parents (95%) already practice "safe hosting" and do not allow underage drinking in their homes (2010 Healthy Youth Survey). However, in support of the adoption of the ordinance, it was also pointed out that 12th grade students on the Island continue to consume alcohol at rates above the state average. The coalition explained that this ordinance is designed to help by further limiting youth access to alcohol where it is obtained the most: from friends, older siblings, and unlocked liquor cabinets at residential house parties.
  
Mercer Island is the first city in the state to adopt such an ordinance. The use of social host ordinances to reduce underage drinking is supported by the State Department of Social and Health Service Division of Behavioral and Health Recovery (DBHR) and the Washington State Liquor Control Board (LCB).
  
"As chairpersons for the WA State Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking, we applaud the Mercer Island Communities That Care Coalition and the City of Mercer Island for the passage of the Underage Drinking Ordinance. They have taken a major step in helping to ensure a safer and healthier environment for the children and youth of Mercer Island," said Sharon Foster, Chair of the LCB and Michael Langer, Administrator with DBHR in a joint statement.  
 
MICTC reminds all parents to lock and monitor their alcohol, insure underage parties are supervised by a responsible adult, and take other preventative measures available for review at www.drugfree.org.
 
Questions can be directed to Derek Franklin, MICTC Project Director at derek.franklin@mercergov.org or to Katie Knight, City Attorney at katie.knight@mercergov.org



 

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