In Caz, a new possibility for fighting underage drinking

Cazenovia parents worried about alcohol may have ample reasons for concern: According to a 2009 American Drug and Alcohol survey for Madison County, 80 percent of ninth and tenth graders consider it "fairly" or "very easy" to get alcohol, while the percentage for 11th and 12th graders was 88 percent.

Additionally, about 55 percent of Madison County youth in grades 9 through 12 felt that their parents would care "a lot" if they drank.

A proposed "social host ordinance" could discourage the furnishing of alcohol to minors. A social host ordinance is a local law under which law enforcement can cite an individual hosting a party or whomever controls the property where a party occurs. This differs from state law, which specifically targets the person who supplied alcohol to minors, and is harder to enforce.

The possibility of local legislation has been supported by community organization specialist Melissa Clarke of Caz Action and Madison County BRiDGES.

Caz Action has approached the town and village of Cazenovia to promote the consideration of a local ordinance making it illegal to host parties with underage drinking, and lowering the threshold at which the law could be enforced. Unlike state law, which brings more severe criminal charges, the local law would consist of a large fine.

"We are a community that cares about our youth," Clarke said at a village board meeting last week. "We aren't going to allow underage drinking If we reduce their access, then consuming goes down."

Members of the village board and community members voiced support for such legislation, in which fines could approach $1,000 and would strongly discourage anyone from hosting or allowing underage drinking on their property.

The village has model legislation from other municipalities that have adopted social host laws, and will hold a public hearing at their monthly meeting next month to discuss possible legislation.

Besides the financial impact, Cazenovia village board member Peggy Van Arnam pointed to another deterrent offered by social host legislation: Publicity.

"We're all wearing our seatbelts so we don't get our name and age in the paper," Van Arnam said.

The public hearing will be held 7 p.m. Nov. 2 at the village municipal building in Cazenovia.

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