Governor Signs Social Host Bill, Focus on High School-Age Students

By Chris Earl, Reporter

CORALVILLE, Iowa - The mailboxes that dot the streets of Coralville are bare now but, in about a month, expect more than a few to be adorned with a balloon or two, telling the world a high school graduate lives there.

As prom and graduation season will arrive soon, Iowa has joined other neighboring states in putting a social host law on the books.

Keeping alcohol from children 17 or younger is the primary focus of Senate File 2310. Governor Terry Branstad signed the bill into law on Thursday at a ceremony in Des Moines.

The legislation states that an adult host who knowingly allows a person 17 or younger to consume alcohol is subject to a $200 misdemeanor. Subsequent violations would result to a $500 fine.

This also provides Iowa with a statewide floor for all 99 counties. At the state of this year, 22 Iowa counties had a social host ordinance on the books. Washington County was the first in Eastern Iowa to pass an ordinance in 2008 and Linn County followed in 2009.

"Since the law is on the books, people are aware of it so peole that of that before they do allow their kids to have a party at their house," said Lt. John Stuelke of the Linn County Sheriff's Office in Cedar Rapids. "For us, it's both a deterrent and a tool to cite people if they do violate the ordinance."

Johnson and Black Hawk are the most populated counties in Eastern Iowa with a social host ordinance. Last year, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors heard proposals on an ordinance but chose not to pass one.

Johnson County Public Health Director Doug Beardsley spoke before the board in 2013 to support a social host ordinance. On Thursday, he said the statewide bill may be lacking but at least secures a foothold in Iowa.

"It was not everything that we wanted," said Beardsley. "It's a good start and it does fill a hole that we had, statewide. Our focus on that in Johnson County was targeted towards high school students anyway because in (Iowa City), the city has their nuisance host ordinance."

A stricter form of the bill included penalties for adults who provide alcohol to minors between the ages of 18 to 20. However, to pass out of the House, the language was changed to those 17 and under to secure passage.

The bill still allows local governments, such as the counties and cities with laws already in place, to pass more stringent ordinances.
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