A proposal, criticized on the first go-round as "nanny-statism," that would hold adults accountable for events where underage drinking occurs will be back before a Missoula City Council committee on Wednesday.

Sponsor Dave Strohmaier said he's tweaked his social host ordinance to address those concerns.

As with the first version, it's all about who knew what.

The changes are "minimal," he said, "mainly clarifying the nature and sharpening the definition of knowledge."

The bill would penalize people who know - or should have known - that people under age 21 either drank alcohol or had it in their possession, and failed to prevent it.

At a hearing last month before the council's Public Safety and Health Committee, councilors raised a variety of what they saw as problematic scenarios.

Council member Renee Mitchell reminded Strohmaier that kids have been known to sneak beer into events that their parents or other adults were hosting - just as they've been known to throw parties of their own when the grownups are away.

Councilman Bob Jaffe, a landlord, worried about the fact that he rents property to University of Montana students who presented - as Strohmaier termed it Monday - "a high probability that one might crack open a beer."

"That does not constitute knowledge," Strohmaier said.

The revised proposal defines knowledge thusly:

"Knowledge" means that a person has "notice" of a fact if the person has actual knowledge of it, has received a notice or notification of it, or "from all the facts and circumstances known to the person at the time in question, has reason to know it exists."

"Hopefully," said Strohmaier, "the sharpened-up language has helped with the concerns."

Although several council members raised questions during last month's hearing, some of the most pointed criticism came from Councilman Roy Houseman, who called it "kind of nanny state-ish, to say the least," and said it seemed too disparaging of young people.

Ward 2's Houseman, who as the council's youngest member said he was underage less than a decade ago, resigned last month because he took a job with the United Steelworkers that will require frequent travel to Washington, D.C.

Council members were expected to choose his replacement Monday night. (See related story on Page A1.)

Strohmaier's proposal would set a $500 fine, plus court costs, for a first offense, and a minimum fine of $500, along with a mandatory minimum of two days' imprisonment for subsequent offenses.

If the underage drinkers in question are under 16, the measure sets a five-day mandatory imprisonment for the subsequent offenses.

Anyone convicted would be required to reimburse the costs of law enforcement or emergency responders. At last month's hearing, Assistant Police Chief Mike Brady and Lt. Scott Brodie told committee members that a November party in Grant Creek, where 39 people under age 21 were cited, cost the Missoula Police Department $1,704.

Strohmaier's proposal sets higher fines than other such measures around the state.

In 2008, Helena became the first city in Montana to enact a social host ordinance. That measure, which exempts landlords, imposes a $300 fine for a first offense. A Billings ordinance with a $350 fine went into effect in 2009, and a Great Falls measure sets a $250 fine. The Fort Peck Reservation also has a social host law that applies to parties in tribal housing, with a $250 penalty.

Last year, Townsend adopted a social host ordinance that carries a $100 penalty. Supporters said they hoped it would become an example for other smaller communities.

Strohmaier hopes that committee members will decide Wednesday to set a public hearing on the proposal before the full council.

Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio@missoulian.com, or on CopsAndCourts.com.

 

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