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Letter: Underage drinking not just youth problem

Published: Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

To the Editor:

The DeKalb County Partnership for a Substance Abuse Free Environment (DCP/SAFE) would like to remind our fellow community members that the expanded social host liability law in Illinois will go into effect starting Jan. 1. The revisions made to the Illinois law make it easier to trigger liability in cases involving underage drinking.

Social host refers to adults who “authorize” or “permit” one or more minors to consume alcohol at their private residence, and/or on any property that they own, lease or otherwise control. This includes:

• Parents or guardians away from home when their teens host a party

• Parents or guardians who are present but deny knowledge of drinking on their property

• Owners and/or tenants of rural property

• Owners of vacant property

• Properties include residential, nonresidential and private business property, like boats, backyards, offices and stores.

The expanded law also includes a defense for homeowners who call the police when they discover minors drinking on their property.

Under the Illinois social host liability law, adults can be held responsible for any injuries or deaths resulting from underage people drinking alcohol on their property – regardless of who furnishes the alcohol. Charges associated with violating these laws range from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class 4 felony if the violation directly or indirectly results in great bodily harm or death to any person.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), strong advocates of social hosting laws, state on their website, “when law enforcement officials arrive on the scene of an underage drinking party, it’s often difficult to determine who provided the alcohol. Therefore, laws that prohibit furnishing alcohol to youth under 21 can be hard to enforce. With social host liability, the focus is on where the drinking takes place, rather than who provided the alcohol.”

We know all too well that dangerous consequences can and do occur when minors drink alcohol. Underage drinking is dangerous and it is up to adults to keep minors safe. Keep minors safe by not allowing them to consume alcohol. This is not only a moral responsibility, but a legal one as well and adults need to be aware of the negative consequences of their actions.

W. Michael Massey, Co-chair, DCP/SAFE Steering Committee                                                                                                             


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