June 11, 2013

Crawford County supervisors approved a county-wide ordinance last month that makes hosting an underage drinking party a civil county infraction, punishable by a $750 fine for the first offense, and a $1,000 fine for a subsequent offense.

Crawford joins a handful of counties that have tackled the issue. Under Iowa law, there is no specific penalty against adults who allow the consumption of alcohol by underage drinkers in their presence or on their property. Rather, it's illegal when adults provide the alcohol.

Roger Sailer, assistant county attorney for Crawford County, originally proposed the ordinance after noticing "in some cases it was difficult to find enough evidence to charge them with anything that was existing on the books. Clearly that's an activity we want to discourage."

He said he based Crawford's ordinance on similar statutes in other counties, such as Monona and Linn counties.

"The idea is public education, to let parents know that we're not just going to turn a blind eye to blatant disregard of the law," Sailer said. "There are consequences to these sorts of actions, and they should be discouraged."

The ordinance goes into effect July 1.

Crawford's approval of the measure follows its defeat at the Iowa Capitol this year. State lawmakers allowed a bill similar to the county ordinance to die during the Iowa House's second so-called "funnel week," in which bills that are not approved for debate on the House floor cannot be considered later in the session.

"A lot of people thought it wasn't needed," said Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, chairman of the House's Public Safety Committee. Baudler said the bill has been around for several years and has faced many critiques.

The bill passed out of the Public Safety Committee with a vote of 17-4, only to be shut down on the House floor with an amendment to "improve the language," Baudler said.

House File 529, the bill's official designation, will be eligible again for next year, when it will have to make its way back through the Public Safety Committee.

Sen. Mark Segebart, R-Vail, said the bill may have been put down for political reasons.

"It's literally a case of the (House) leadership pigeon-holing it," Segebart said. "I see this on the Senate side - reluctance by the leadership, unless they know they have the numbers, to bring it to the floor."

With the bill put on hold for now, it's up to county and city councils to decide whether ordinances such as the ones in Linn, Monona and Crawford counties are necessary.

"This isn't stopping local governments," Segebart said. "It is pretty political. I'm thinking about the underage drinking problem when I think about this."

At this point Carroll County does not have any specific intentions to embrace a similar policy.

"I would support it," said Dave Bruner, city attorney for Carroll. "Families are having parties and having underage kids at these parties, there's a lot of responsibility."

A Carroll woman, Kelley Collison, 45, was arrested for a disorderly house after she allegedly allowed underage drinking at her house for a graduation party last month. She has pleaded not guilty, and a trial is set for July 9.

Carroll County Sheriff Doug Bass said he receives few reports of underage drinking parties hosted by adults in the county.

"I think I would be in favor of it actually. It's something that's gone on for a while in Iowa, I sometimes wonder why it occurs," Segebart said. "I understand the premise is when you're hosting a party you kind of control it, but I think it does a disservice in the end."