Parents who allow parties with underage drinking at their homes in the City of Orting could face a $250 fine under a new law.
Police in the city of 6,700 people are now empowered to issue tickets to tenants, homeowners or others “in immediate control of property” where the party happens, as well as those who organize, supervise, sponsor or control access to such a gathering.
The law is meant to be a deterrent, said Heather Hogan of Orting Standing Together on Prevention, the group that advocated for the ordinance. It also will help police deal with homes and properties that are chronic sites of underage drinking parties, she said.
“We’re adding more consequences,” Hogan said.
The ordinance is similar to one enacted in Mercer Island, Orting officials said. So-called “social host” laws are in place in other parts of the country, too, and are believed to be effective in reducing the number of parents and others who allow their property to be used for underage gatherings with alcohol, said Gloria Mansfield Averill, a manager with the Tacoma Pierce County DUI and Traffic Safety Task Force.
Her group administers a Party Intervention Patrol project with the Puyallup Police Department that aims to cut down on underage drinking around the county. They go on patrols to break up parties – including a Bonney Lake-area party last month in which 18 minors were arrested for alcohol possession – and they dispatch parent volunteers and chemical dependency workers to provide immediate support upon such arrests.
Puyallup police Sgt. Bob Thompson said the intervention project, which is about 5 years old, has been successful in reducing serious alcohol-related car wrecks involving youths.
He said Orting’s new ordinance is a good additional tool for the neighboring Puyallup Valley city.
Under the new law adopted by the City Council last month, police officers can issue civil infractions to people responsible for youth parties with alcohol. The “responsible person” won’t have to actively throw the party to get an infraction; parents who go out of town for the weekend could receive one.
The ordinance doesn’t apply when the only underage drinkers are “being closely supervised in person by their parent or guardian.” There also are exceptions when a guardian, physician or dentist gives the alcohol for medical reasons, or when it’s part of a religious service and is the minimum amount necessary, the ordinance says.
Orting Councilman Graham Hunt cast the only no vote compared with five yes votes. He said he generally believes in small government and that the state already makes providing alcohol to minors illegal.
Mayor Cheryl Temple said she also had some hesitation about the reach of the ordinance into people’s homes. But she said she believes it will be a tool for police, especially when it comes to “repeat offenders, (places) where police know there are drinking parties.”
Councilman Ric Fritz said he feels the ordinance has “enough protections built in that it’s not overly intrusive; it’s geared at those who are absent in action from their kids’ lives. I think it’s a great thing for us do.”