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"Social Host" Law Survives "Funnel Week" in Des Moines

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ANAMOSA, Iowa - Three years ago, on a harsh winter night, Teresa Marek nearly lost her daughter.

"She was unconscious and was turning purple," Marek said.

Marek said the family had just moved to Anamosa and her then 14-year-old daughter wanted to attend a party "for a couple of hours." Marek learned that her teen had been drinking in a barn in sub-zero weather. She said the combination of alcohol and cold temperatures nearly killed her.

Yet it was what happened the following week that also shocked her.

"(The parent) allowed these parties to take place every weekend," Marek said. "The weekend after my daughter required immediate medical attention, she allowed her son to have a party. No repercussions. No penalties."

Soon after, in 2011, Jones County adopted a "social host ordinance," making it "unlawful for any social host of an event, gathering, or party on the social host's premises to knowingly permit or allow underage persons to consume alcoholic beverages, or knowingly permit or allow underage persons to possess alcoholic beverages on the premises, whether or not the social host is present on the premises."

Penalties are $500 for a first offense, $750 for a second offense.

"We want it to be a deterrent," \Jennifer Husmann, project coordinator with the Jones County Safe and Healthy Youth Coalition, said. "We're looking at these preventative-type ordinances and laws to reduce access to alcohol and putting the emphasis on adults."

A statewide push for similar legislation survived "funnel week", the week in Des Moines where bills often face an unceremonious end. In previous years, similar "social host" bills did not make it past this point.

Rep. Lee Hein (R-Monticello) joined four other members of the Assembly to bring forth House File 234, a bill for an act relating to the underage possession or consumption of alcohol and providing penalties.

Currently, less than one-third of Iowa's 99 counties have "social host" laws on the books. This does include Linn, Benton and Dubuque counties. Other Eastern Iowa counties, such as Delaware, are waiting to see if House File 234 turns into a statewide law that covers all of Iowa.

"We need to make it statewide so that it's common throughout the state," Hein said.

While Jones County has a law in place, other neighboring counties in Eastern Iowa may not. For example, parents in a neighbor county across the border from Jones County could host a party and the parents or guardians would not face the same penalties as a party with underage consumption in Jones County.

"I spoke for it, supported it, as I feel like parents need to be accountable," Marek said. "They need to be accountable for what children are doing on their property."

There have been questions about an adult's actual liability throughout this process. Some concerns are if a parent or adult is unaware their teenager is throwing a party, with alcohol. Marek and Husmann said, in that case, a penalty would be not imposed as the adult was unaware.

"Underage drinking and other youth substance abuse issues starts with adults," Husmann said. "It's an adult issue and we set the environment for the children."

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