Social Hosting can be defined as a parent or adults hosting parties within the home or property where underage drinkers have ready access to alcohol. Dram shop laws refer to a business’s liability where the selling of alcohol to customers implicates the business in liability should an accident or death occurs. Such laws exist in 38 states. Virginia is not one of them. Both were topics in Botetourt County on Thursday.
The Botetourt Prevention Planning team met on Thursday, November 19, 2009 with local and state officials about the possibility of crafting a social hosting ordinance. Those invited officials included Scott Goodman and Will Goodman from the Virginia ABC board, Elizabeth Dillon, County Attorney, Juvenile and Domestic Court Judge Paul Tucker, Bill Cleaveland, newly elected Delegate to the General Assembly, Joel Branscom, Commonwealth’s Attorney and Deputy Steve Flint SRO and DARE officer for Botetourt County Elementary schools.
Dillon informed the group that localities can not legally craft such legislation. Laws have to be part of the Code of Virginia. Branscom presented handouts on what the codes already on the books are in conjunction with underage drinking and selling alcohol to minors.
Lynn McDowell of Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare gave the panel a brief lesson in the data collected in the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey that indicated a significant alcohol problem among county middle and high school youth.
Will Goodman spoke to the possibilities of such legislation verses tweaking the language of what is already out there on the books. He indicated and was seconded by Dillon that Dram Shop laws placing Civil and criminal liability on restaurants and bars has not been popular in Virginia and any such legislation addressing Social Hosting might hit a strong opposition lobby. As Dillon put it, “It is unlikely if there are no Dram Shop laws there will be more significant penalties placed on families with a social hosting ordinance. Cleaveland, who is a defense attorney by profession, spoke to the implications in enforcement of such laws.
The rights guaranteed homeowners under the 4th Amendment must also be taken under consideration when drafting legislation about entry into homes as well, noted Goodman. Branscom spoke to a lawsuit, which may be going to the US Supreme Court, concerning a Botetourt County deputy and entry into a home where teens were consuming alcohol. The suit is based on the 4th amendment rights of people in their homes.
Tucker said, “Botetourt County has great kids, but they make mistakes like everyone else. Is there an alcohol problem here? Yes. I think so. Anything that brings about thoughtful discussion is good and the debate on social hosting is worthwhile.” Branscom went on to say though the forces to oppose Dram Shop laws would likely align to fight the Social Hosting laws as well.
“Public awareness is key,” said Branscom.
Kathy Sullivan of RAYSAC introduced are some interesting facts about the so called social hosting laws. she said, “There is a nationwide trend in states to have an ordinance. In states where there are social hosting ordinances, underage drinking goes down. Civil fines are immediately accessed to parents and or hosts.”
Dillon reminded the BPPT that the State of Virginia does not have specific liability. A bar can sell to an obviously drunk person who leaves and kills someone with his car and have no liability on the bar. The same rule applies to individuals. As BPPT memebr and crime prevention specialist, Sharon Coleman put it, “I can sue you if my child breaks an ankle on a trampoline at your home, but if you serve my child alcohol and they get killed, I cannot sue you.”
The BPPT decide to form a subcommittee to further evaluate the process. In the meantime, Branscom advised them to align themselves with powerful lobbies like MADD and continue to research the possibilities.