GOSHEN—Orange County legislators unanimously voted on Feb. 4 to approve a social host law that would hold adults responsible for underage drinking on their property.
The law applies to anyone 18 years or older who knowingly allows the consumption of alcohol in their residence or yard, rented or owned, by those under the age of 21 and does not “take reasonable corrective action upon learning of the consumption of alcohol or alcoholic beverages by any minor on such premises.”
Those corrective actions include demanding the minor relinquish the alcohol and desist from drinking, and if that does not work, either reporting it to the authorities or “any other person having a greater degree of authority over the conduct of such minor.”
The law takes effect immediately.
Consequences for a first time offense include a fine of up to $500 and taking an alcohol awareness program and/or up to 30 hours of community service.
A second offense would be a fine of $1,000, imprisonment up to a year, or both.
The law excludes situations where a minor’s parent or guardian is present and gives explicit consent, or the minor is consuming alcohol for religious purposes.
The law was proposed after 20-year-old Scotchtown resident, Justin Speights, was killed during a New Year’s party where there was alleged underage drinking. Officials say Speights, a four-year member of the Silver Lake Fire Department, was trying to break up a fight when he was stabbed.
Legislator Christopher Eachus said he had a problem with the term “knowingly,” having spent a career working with teenagers and “knowing that a number of parties occurred,” he said. “This ‘knowingly’ I think we have to keep track of.”
He added the law could be modified if they heard from the District Attorney’s office that it was not working the way it was intended.
A few lawmakers echoed the sentiment that they hoped the law would be more about education on underage drinking than punishment.
“My hope is that in an effort to inform the public and let them know that allowing underage drinking is not going to be tolerated, hopefully [that] is going to result in saving some lives,” said Minority Leader Matthew Turnbull.
Turnbull sits on the board of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council (ADAC) and said he hoped they would be part of that educational campaign, “because they’re the ones that have been in the trenches with this issue for many years.”
Legislative Chairman Stephen Brescia said the District Attorney would be coming before two committees this month with a $20,000 education proposal.
Legislator Michael Amo warned that while their goal was to prevent the consequences of underage drinking, it will only be effective if people know what the consequences of the law are.
“We can’t have it after the fact that someone realizes that there are huge consequences when they didn’t realize what they were doing was really bad,” he said. “I think we need to use social media, we need to use the PSA model to make this happen—we got to tell the families.”
To contact this reporter, email [email protected]