Caz village drafts new 'tool' in fight against underage drinking

Newly proposed social host legislation wouldn't necessarily be a sweeping change to local law, but rather another tool in local law enforcement's "toolkit" against underage drinking, village board members said at a public hearing Jan. 4.

"What we've tried to do is make a law that's very simple and starts with the basic premise that no other adult should be serving your underage child, your minor, alcohol without your knowledge or consent," Deputy Mayor Kurt Wheeler said at the outset of the first public hearing to focus on an actual draft of the proposed local law.

Under the social host legislation, anyone knowingly hosting a party at which underage drinking is occurring could be charged with a violation and a strict fine.

Community members in attendance were concerned that the new law would lead to fewer penalties for those allowing underage drinking; if there is already a state law, why give offenders a "way out" of stricter, criminal charges in the state law?

Village Trustee Rich Huftalen explained that the state law is much harder to enforce than the local law would be, with a much greater burden of proof.

"Having this legislation in place makes it more likely that something will happen instead of less likely," Huftalen said.

Wheeler addressed concerns about the possibility of being charged if a party is hosted on property without the owner's knowledge.

"This has been a frequent comment," Wheeler said. "The verbiage of the local law, it's very succinct: 'Knowingly permit.' If someone's on your back 40 and you don't know they're there, you're not culpable."

Some were concerned that having the legislation enacted only in the village would not be an effective deterrent, and would encourage minors to take their drinking to a new location outside of the village. While similar legislation is being considered by the town of Cazenovia, Village Trustee Amy Mann expressed concerns that it might not pass at that level.

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