Coalition looks to curb teen drinking

By Staff Reports

The Waconia HERO Coalition is tackling the issue of teen alcohol abuse head on.

On Thursday, Dec. 15, the coalition will host a forum aimed at fostering a conversation about social host ordinances. The meeting, slated for 6:30 p.m. at Waconia City Hall, is the coalition’s attempt to start an informed dialogue about the subject, according to HERO organizers.

The coalition’s move is spurred by data from the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey that shows underage drinking rates among Waconia students is higher than the state average. Among 11th grade boys, 29 percent of Waconia students reported using alcohol in the past 30 days. The state average among the same group was 24 percent, according to the survey. In response to a question about binge-drinking, 15 percent of 11th grade Waconia boys and 13 percent of 11th grade Waconia girls reported that they had participated in binge-drinking. Those figures are slightly higher than the state averages of 14 percent and 12 percent in the same peer groups, respectively. One area where Waconia students fell below the state average was general alcohol use among 11th grade girls – only 20 percent of Waconia students in that group reported using alcohol in the last 30 days while the state average stood at 25 percent.

Teenagers, with, drinks
Stock photo

The coalition is floating the idea of a social host ordinance as an evidence-based strategy to reduce underage drinking and its negative impact on students and the community. A social host ordinance makes it a criminal offense to knowingly provide an environment where underage drinking takes place.

While it is illegal to provide alcohol to anyone under the age of 21, courts have ruled that individuals that allow a gathering of minors in their home to consume alcohol, but who do not directly provide the alcohol to the minors, cannot be prosecuted because their actions do not meet the legal definitions of “furnishing alcohol.” It is loopholes like this that the HERO Coalition hopes to address with a conversation about social host ordinances.

According to the coalition, more than 52 percent of Minnesota counties and cities have some sort of social host ordinance. The first city in Minnesota to adopt such an ordinance was neighboring Chaska in 2007. In 2009, neighboring Scott County implemented a county-wide ordinance.

“It is a very effective tool for us in addressing under-aged drinking,” said Chaska Police Chief Scott Knight. “In the beginning, we used it more than we do now because people know we have it and will use it. It has curtailed these types of gatherings greatly.”

The issue of underage drinking carries a higher cost than just health risks for teens who drink – a 2003 report by the National Research Council’s Institute of Medicine attached a price tag of at least $53 billion a year nationwide in costs incurred through underage drinking, mostly due to traffic deaths and violent crime.

Ben Karnes, who recently retired from the school resource officer position in Waconia schools, supports the push for a local social host ordinance. Karnes is also a member of the HERO Coalition.

“This is a great tool for parents to keep their children and other children safe in our community,” Karnes said. “It supports them in setting clear expectations about doing the right thing. Alcohol and kids are never a good combination.”

The HERO Coalition’s community focus group session on Dec. 15 is open to the public, and the coalition encourages local residents and parents to attend and voice their opinions on the subject.