City Council approves social host ordinance

Violators could face a misdemeanor with a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail.

Ian Larson

The Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Friday making it a misdemeanor to host a party with underage drinkers present. Proponents of the ordinance, however, tempered their expectations with cautious optimism. Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon, the author of the ordinance, said it addresses the sometimes âÄúdevastating impactâÄù that results from large parties with excessive underage drinking. Under the ordinance, violators could face a misdemeanor with a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak must sign the ordinance before it can become law. Minnesota Student Association Officer Drake Nimz is encouraging students to e-mail Rybak voicing their opinion. Should the mayor veto it, the proposal would return to the council, which could make it law with a two-thirds majority vote. MSA did not officially take a stand against the ordinance, Nimz said, but the organization did vote down a proposal to support it. The University of Minnesota and area neighborhood associations support the ordinance but say it is only one of many strategies for curbing dangerous and sometimes disruptive underage drinking. âÄúI donâÄôt think anyone thinks it solves the underlying problem,âÄù Southeast Como Improvement Association Neighborhood Coordinator James De Sota said. âÄúWhat it does, hopefully, is allow the Minneapolis Police Department to start addressing the outcome [of underage drinking].âÄù Students criticized the ordinance, saying it will not deter underage drinking in most cases. âÄúI donâÄôt think itâÄôs going to make a big effect, except for people who have really, really big parties that get out of control,âÄù Nimz said. Sigma Chi President Alexander Tenenbaum said the fraternity will re-evaluate its policies in the coming weeks in light of the new regulations. Tenenbaum and Nimz both expressed concern that the proposal may deter underage drinkers from seeking medical attention in emergency situations. âÄúWhether itâÄôs in a fraternity or a house party or around campus, I have a feeling that people will not feel safe seeking medical help for their friends when itâÄôs needed, because they donâÄôt want to get a $1,000 fine or spend the time in jail or have a misdemeanor on their record,âÄù Tenenbaum said. Prosecution stemming from the ordinance will be dealt with on an individual basis, and penalties could be mitigated based on the circumstances of the party, Gordon said. Gordon first proposed the ordinance in October, modeling it after a similar proposal in St. Paul. Several students opposed the Minneapolis version at a Feb. 3 public hearing. Organizations including SECIA and the University wrote to the council in support of the ordinance. âÄúI think that by itself, the social host ordinance isnâÄôt going to dramatically change the neighborhood scene,âÄù Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart said. âÄúI wish something would âĦ make it more civil for the neighbors. We can always be optimistic, but IâÄôm a realist, I guess.âÄù Minneapolis police Sgt. Jesse Garcia has said the ordinance will give police more flexibility to enforce existing drinking laws. Minneapolis is on track to join nearly 40 other cities and counties statewide with similar laws.