Social Host Responsibility bylaw passes

Oct 5, 2017 by

Published in the October 5, 2017 edition

By MAUREEN DOHERTY

NORTH READING — Local law enforcement will soon have another tool in their toolbox when it comes to the use of underage drinking or drug use in private homes and other locations.

That tool is the ability to issue civil fines — similar to a parking ticket — to the adult or adults being held accountable for knowingly allowing minors under age 21 to drink or do drugs following the passage of Article 15, the Social Host Bylaw, at Monday’s Town Meeting.

This bylaw places the responsibility on parents, guardians and other individuals to ensure that unlawful activity does not take place at parties or gatherings held at private residences as well as hotels, motels and functions. Violators would be issued civil fines by police with an appeal process to the courts.

Selectman Andrew Schultz stated it was alarming to many that the self-reporting use of alcohol in the past 30 days by the town’s high school seniors at nearly 52 percent was much higher than the national average.

While some in the audience view this change to the town’s general bylaws as overreach because such activities by minors are criminal acts as is providing such substances to minors, Police Chief Michael Murphy said having the option to issue civil fines will give his officers an opportunity to educate and engage the public as well as offer “diversion programs” for youths.

Under the current practice of having their only option to issue criminal charges against offenders, the police are unable to help the youths or the adults once they are read their Miranda rights and get a lawyer.

“This is a safety issue,” Murphy said. One incident he recalled included two adults who not only provided the alcohol to minors, they also participated in drinking the alcohol with the youth and hosted the party as well. They attempted to prosecute but he said “all the youths were given their fifth amendment privileges and no one was able to testify so essentially for all the resource we put into it, it ended in dismissal.”

“We’re not looking to charge people criminally. What we are looking to do is engage the community in an educational forum,” Murphy added. “It will engage us in conversation, monthly, weekly, whatever it takes. You don’t want a heavy hand in this. We want adults to really have conversations with their kids and adults to have conversations with other adults when their children are visiting other homes.”

Joe Veno questioned the fee schedule, which he said provides for a $100 fine on first offense plus a $100 administrative fee to the police; a $200 fine for second offense plus a $100 administrative fee to the police and a $300 fine for a third offense with no administrative fee issued to the police. He asked why the administrative fee went away for the third offense.

Town Counsel Darren Klein explained that $300 is the maximum civil fee allowed therefore they could not impose the administrative fee to third-time offenders. A resident also asked where the fees go. Schultz said they become part of the town’s General Fund.

Youth Services Director Amy Luckiewicz, who administers the federal Drug Free Communities Grant said the social host bylaw was created to address the grant’s goals of using a broad range of seven strategies for community change to reduce the use of alcohol, marijuana, tobacco and prescription drugs by youths as well as to “prevent substance use from starting.”

Luckiewicz added that it is intended as a means to identify those adults who have a “casual attitude” about youth alcohol use, especially those who are currently providing alcohol to minors for use both in-home parties and out-of-home parties. “This is about prevention, it’s not about enforcement,” she said. “The numbers are showing us that we have to act, and we have to act now.”

She recommended that those with any questions about the Community Impact Team’s initiative in this area to visit their website at www.northreadingma.gov/CIT where they can view the PRIDE survey presentation as well as the social host workshop and review parent resources as well as recovery resources.

“If anyone you know of any age needs help with recovery, please either visit our resource page or contact me personally,” Luckiewicz said. She can be contacted by phone (978-857-5281) or at coalition@northreadingma.gov.

Marci Bailey added that this bylaw does not affect parents or guardians who provide a alcohol, such as a glass of wine, to their minor child for religious celebrations.

Jeff Yull was opposed the bylaw as written. “I happen to agree with you; we have to do something. The question is, is this the best route? I know you’ve done your studies and I respect that and appreciate that, I just don’t think it’s the best route. I believe there is a criminal act that occurs” even if they try to enforce the bylaw through civil fines.

Fire Chief Bill Warnock said, “I look at this a little differently than other people in the room. If it saves one life, it’s worth it. If it saves one life, it’s worth it. I respect all your opinions, I respect your rights, but remember, people get killed in drunk accidents all the time. If it saves one life, it’s worth it.”

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