By Seth Littrell
Register News Writer
MADISON COUNTY —
Officials from Madison County, Richmond and Berea on Thursday discussed the possibility of enacting a “social host” ordinance during a joint meeting at the Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea.
Jennifer Webb, who heads a group working to prevent underage drinking, made a short presentation to the group, saying “holes” exist in state laws that prohibiting giving alcohol to minors.
Under a local social host ordinance, the owner of a property where alcohol is being served to minors would be subject to legal penalties.
Webb said she has spent more than a year working with the Richmond and Berea police departments to develop the proposed ordinance, which is yet to be passed by any of the county’s governing bodies. If passed, the ordinance would act as a tool to educate families, she said.
Richmond Police Chief Larry Brock said the ordinance would help hold people accountable for large college parties, which can drain police resources.
“We’ve encountered parties with 150 to 200 people present,” Brock said. “Sometimes we have to commit everyone we have on duty that night... It’s better if we don’t have all our eggs in one place.”
Magistrate Billy Ray Hughes expressed support for the ordinance, saying it also would help prevent substance abuse in the county.
“Every one of us knows someone who’s life is getting wrecked by substance abuse,” Hughes said. “A child who consumes alcohol by the age of 14 is seven times more likely to be alcohol dependent than someone who waits till the legal age.”
Berea City Council Member Virgil Burnside said he had concerns about punishing the property owner, because there may be situations where an owner doesn’t know illegal activity is happening.
“If I’ve got a field that has an entry like a back gate, and somebody’s out there and I don’t know it, I’m going to be held (responsible)?”
Berea Police Chief David Gregory said that would not be the case, as he and Brock had a similar concern about parents whose children host parties while they are away. In such an instance, he said, the member of the household who hosted the party would be held responsible instead.
County Judge/Executive Kent Clark said the best way to enact a social host ordinance would be for all three governments to approve it simultaneously. To begin the process, he recommended the county attorney and city attorneys meet to jointly create a draft of the proposal.
If all three governments are on board after an ordinance is drafted, they can move on to adopting it and begin enforcement at the same time, Clark said
According to Brock and Gregory, simultaneous action would prevent gatherings where underage drinking is allowed from simply relocating from one of the cities to the county.
Seth Littrell can be reached at email@example.com or 624-6623.