Underage drinking ordinance?
Residents attending Monday's
A hearing on a proposed ordinance will begin Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. in the Sarah Noble Intermediate School cafeteria, prior to a special council meeting.
Joe Speranzo , the executive director of the Housatonic Shepaug branch of the United Way and the chairman of the local prevention council - New Milford Community Action Network - said NMCAN has been trying for more than a year to gather support for such an ordinance and get out the message "underage drinking is wrong and dangerous."
Mr. Speranzo told the council Monday that 61 percent of youth who drink do so at house parties.
He said an ordinance would be a major step in establishing "a safety net" protecting minors and would "give voice to the silent majority of parents who do the right thing" but are undermined by those who provide alcohol for minors at house parties.
Following an Oct. 14 meeting, NMCAN presented a draft ordinance to Mayor Pat Murphy . After the council set the date for the meeting Monday, Mr. Speranzo said he's happy, adding, "It's a first step."
He said NMCAN will hold additional forums while reprinting and circulating the "Teens Matter-Prevent Underage Drinking" newsletter distributed last spring.
A possible ordinance, if adopted, would state:
A minor shall not possess alcohol, open or unopened, on public or private property within the town except when in the presence of a parent, guardian or spouse 21 years or older.
A person shall not host an event on public or private property within the town at which alcohol is consumed by, or dispensed to, any minor unless accompanied by a parent, guardian or non-minor spouse.
Town attorney Randy DiBella said violations of the ordinance would be considered an infraction, not a crime, and violators would be liable for a $100 fine per offense.
Mr. DiBella said the ordinance would fill a gap in the law regarding private parties. Existing law already prohibits minors from possessing alcohol in public places.
More than three dozen Connecticut towns have passed underage drinking ordinances in an attempt to close the loophole in state law regarding private house parties.
Resident Tom Vrba raised a note of caution Monday night. He said he has "serious, very strong concerns" regarding the expansion of police powers and infringement on property rights.
Mr. DiBella said the ordinance would give the police the right to go to a private house and, if alcohol were in plain view, they could take action.
"[The ordinance] doesn't dispense with normal police criminal procedures and constitutional protections," the attorney said.
Police chief Colin McCormack said police would respond to a party based on a reasonable suspicion or if a complaint were to be made.
Councilman Bob Guendelsberger and several fellow council members said what would amount to a $100 ticket would not be severe enough, but Mr. DiBella said that would be the maximum fine a municipality could levy under current state law.
Mr. DiBella said a special act of the legislature would be required to raise the fine, a move several on the council endorsed.
Mr. O'Brien asked the town's state legislators, Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-30th) and Reps. Mary Ann Carson (R-108th) and Clark Chapin (R-67th) to attend the Dec. 6 hearing or the Dec. 13 council meeting to propose ways they would recommend to close gaps in state legislation.
Council member Pat Sherry agreed the legislature should act, noting New Milford High School students attend parties in neighboring towns where there are also no ordinances.
Councilman Frank Wargo said allowing someone else's 16-year-old to drink amounts to child abuse and a $100 fine "is almost a joke."
He said youths identified as underage drinkers should be required to do community service, including watching videos of alcohol-related tragedies. Mr. Wargo added the community should get behind the ordinance and socially stigmatize those who host parties.
Council member Mary Jane Lundgren said an ordinance would help raise awareness of the problem of underage drinking.
"I don't know why the threat of a civil suit doesn't deter," she remarked, adding in the case of an accident, "everybody is going to be a loser in the end. One death is one death too many."
Parent John Sculley said in addition to tragic accidents as a result of drinking and driving there is an unreported toll. He said there are often assaults on young women and men associated with drinking.
Mr. Sculley remarked residents in a community used to have similar social values but today adults can be "at best negligent, at worst predatory."
Longtime New Milford High School social studies teacher Ann Vallombroso said adults are responsible for protecting youths, and the ordinance would show the town cares and will nurture its young people.
"Underage drinking must not be permitted, condoned, or abetted," she said.
Parent Pam Crowcroft, a drug and alcohol-abuse counselor, said the ordinance would be a preventative measure.
Dian Marandola , a member of the Board of Education and a pediatric nurse practitioner, said it's easy for minors to get their hands on alcohol and, without an ordinance, it's hard for police enforcement of underage drinking laws.
Fellow school board member David L. Lawson said there is always a danger of alcohol poisoning and having an ordinance "will speak volumes" about the community values and "provide a standard of accountability."
For more information on NMCAN: (860) 354-8800