December 19, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria weighs underage drinking party law

ELYRIA — A proposed city law would give police the ability to charge adults criminally for hosting parties for underage guests where alcoholic beverages are served.

State law requires police to prove adults knew alcohol would be consumed at a party and knew underage guests would attend, said city Law Director Scott Serazin.

A less-severe city ordinance could be enacted and be easier to prove, he said. City Council is expected to discuss the issue Wednesday.

“The state charge is harder to prove on the spot by police, but having a city charge of a lesser degree would help officers,” Serazin said. “They may be able to prove negligence or prove recklessness on the part of the parents.”

The ordinance will be discussed during the Utilities, Safety and Environment Committee meeting 6 p.m. Wednesday in City Council chambers.

The state law is a misdemeanor of the first degree, which is just below the lowest-level felony. The city ordinance would be a third- or fourth-degree misdemeanor, Serazin said.

“We are not trying to bring the hammer down on parents, but we do want something that would be a deterrent for hosting these kinds of parties,” he said.

The social hosting ordinance proposal was discussed earlier this year when several Elyria Council members held a town hall meeting on underage drinking. It was co-sponsored by the Communities That Care of Lorain County and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration in conjunction with the Parents who Host Lose the Most campaign.

During that May meeting, Police Lt. Jonathan Pelko discussed the limitations officers have when it comes to breaking up underage drinking parties. Officers need probable cause to enter homes, he said.

Serazin said he would recommend Council look at adopting a similar ordinance to one passed in Dublin in 2009. According to the Dublin city website, the law is not widely used. Since 2009, just 14 people have been charged with violations of the law — five adults 18 and older and nine juveniles.

“We know a lot of parents turn a blind eye to it,” Serazin said. “But it’s much more common than it needs to be. Although we haven’t had any parents to prosecute as of late, it doesn’t mean these parties are not going on.

“Unfortunately, when we do hear about them, it’s because of the catastrophic consequences, like six kids getting into a car with a drunk driver and getting into a fatal accident.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.