DANBURY - Saying a proposed law meant to curb underage drinking could violate common sense - not to mention civil liberties - members of the Common Council booted the bill back to a subcommittee for retooling Tuesday.

Council member
Joel B. Urice said the "feel-good" proposed law went beyond its original intent: to crack down on unsupervised, alcohol-fueled teen house parties. Instead, the proposal would infringe on "parental rights, family values and tradition," Urice said, and would make innocent, everyday activities illegal. "I believe this proposal does not just affect high school and younger teen drinkers at unsupervised parties. It is a very far-reaching ordinance," Urice said. Similar to ordinances passed in Newtown, New Milford, Ridgefield and other towns, the proposal would prohibit anyone under 21 from possessing alcohol on private or public property unless a parent or guardian at least 21 years old was present. The proposed law also would bar anyone from holding a party that served alcohol to people under 21 unless the underage person's parent was present. Violators would face a $90 fine. Enforcement would be up to city police. Several members of the audience at a Common Council meeting also said the law was too intrusive on family life. High school student
Anthony DePoto , 17, worried he would get into trouble with police for carrying unopened beer cans from the garage to the refrigerator. Resident Colin Farmer said an 18-year-old person serving in the military should be allowed to drink a beer in his or her home. Resident
James Sweeney said if he serves his 20-year-old granddaughter a glass of wine, the government should not get involved. "To me this is more parental authority rather than something that should be an ordinance," Sweeney said. State law prohibits anyone from serving alcohol to a minor in a public establishment. However, state law allows minors to drink alcohol in the presence of a parent. The state remains silent on whether it is illegal for someone to give alcohol to a minor on private property when a parent is present, although several bills on the topic are under discussion in Hartford. Urice, meanwhile, said the government shouldn't supersede the common sense of parents. There are plenty of instances where a family member should be allowed to serve alcohol to a fellow family member under 21, Urice said. He said the law would make it illegal for a person under 21 to be in the same house with a refrigerated alcoholic beverage if the person's parent was not home. Urice also said people who are 18, 19, and 20 years old and are serving in the military should be allowed to drink alcohol.
Danbury High School Principal Catherine Richard said she was surprised to hear the proposed law didn't have the full support of the Common Council. She hopes council members will be able to draft a version of the law that works for them. "So many other towns around have passed a similar ordinance - Brookfield, New Milford, New Fairfield, Redding, Ridgefield - I think our kids are just as valuable as their kids," Richard said. Richard said the city needs to send a message to anyone thinking of hosting a keg party for high school students. There are too many young people killed in alcohol-related car accidents in Fairfield County, the principal said. "The message needs to go out to people thinking of hosting parties, that these things are not OK," Richard said. The ordinance has the backing of the Connecticut Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking, an organization that helped to write the law in other communities. The group supports underage drinking ordinances on the local level because the state's young people drink at rates 26 percent higher than the rest of the country. Meanwhile, the group cites figures showing 47 percent of the state's ninth- and 10th-graders drank alcohol within the last 30 days. Forty-one towns have already adopted similar legislation. Several bills are under review in Hartford that deal with underage drinking, including a bill that would suspend the driver's license of any adult convicted of serving alcohol to someone under 21. Members of the Common Council want to see what comes out of Hartford before deciding what to do with the local law.

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