Fayette County’s New Ordinance Holds Adults Accountable for Underage DrinkingPrint This Post
|by Krystin Dean
In 2009, a large party of young people in Fayette County got out of control. As the first deputy arrived to help the parents shut down the party, shots rang out. Three hundred youth fled the scene. Three people were shot and 19-year-old Andrew Wells would not live to see another day. From the investigation, police learned there were four shooters, but may never know who actually killed Andrew.
Fayette County Sheriff Barry Babb shared this story in a letter to residents in 2015 to explain why he initiated the creation of a social hosting ordinance that makes it illegal for adults to knowingly allow youth to drink on their property, even if they didn’t purchase or directly provide the alcohol.
“When parents have the good intention of allowing their child to celebrate after the prom, graduation, or a birthday, things can get out of hand,” Babb explained. “With the age of cell phones and social media, news of parties spreads like a wildfire. We see time and time again people show up uninvited. The party grows. Drugs, alcohol, rival schools—and sometimes rival gangs—can bring unintended consequences.”
Surveys conducted in 2014 show that underage drinking is an issue in Fayette County, where 33 percent of high school seniors consume alcohol regularly compared to the state’s average of 26 percent. Forty percent of youth said they know parents who host or allow underage drinking parties, and more than 70 percent of 11th and 12th graders said underage drinking is a problem.
“Our biggest challenge was that Fayette has a community norm that accepts underage drinking as a rite of passage, and parents’ best practice was to allow parties at their home where they could take the keys and make youth spend the night so they could sleep it off and avoid potential problems associated with drinking and driving,” said Fayette FACTOR Executive Director Becky Smith.
Fayette FACTOR partnered with AVPRIDE, a local nonprofit organization that serves children and families in addressing academic achievement, healthy behavior choices, and post-secondary opportunities, on the Alcohol Prevention Project (APP), a statewide initiative launched in 2011 to address underage and binge drinking.
“We received funding in 2011, but this issue goes way back in this county. We were swimming in a sea of denial when it comes to drug and alcohol use of our young people,” said AVPRIDE co-founder Dawn Oparah. “We called our community leaders together because we knew we weren’t going to be able to move the needle if the decision-makers weren’t at the table with us. To have funding, leadership, and people who care about this community working together has made all the difference in the world.”
In 2014, a Law Team comprised of local leaders convened municipal meetings with officials from various governmental entities in Fayetteville, Peachtree City, Tyrone, and the county to discuss current laws regarding social hosting and underage drinking as well as potential new regulations. A Drafting Team crafted the ordinance in four meetings after gathering feedback from stakeholders and conducting extensive research into social hosting legislation in Georgia and other states.
“Together, we discussed the goals of the ordinance and how to make sure it would be constitutional and enforceable,” said Catherine Sanderson, a Law Team member and chair of the Drafting Team. “We also wanted to make sure the intent of the ordinance remained clear and concise: to limit teenage drinking by deterring adults from deliberately hosting teen parties where alcohol is served or is obviously present.”
The ordinance calls for fines up to $500 for the first offense with a court appearance and at least 30 days in jail for a second offense. Violating the ordinance can also result in community service or alcohol education classes. Dawson and Cobb counties, as well as a few other cities, have adopted similar laws.
“The social hosting ordinance focuses on adults because they are the first line of defense against underage drinking,” said Fayette County Solicitor General Jamie Inagawa. “Prior to the adoption of this ordinance, in order to hold adults responsible for permitting minors drinking on their property, I was required to charge minors with the crime of possession of alcohol. We were prosecuting the very people we were trying to protect.”
The ordinance was formally presented as a proposal to Peachtree City, Fayetteville, and Tyrone and the Fayette County Commission in 2015. It was passed at the county level on Sept. 24, with each of the municipalities following suit.
“Within five months, the ordinance was adopted by all four governments, with one ordinance covering the entire county,” said Smith. “Fayette is the only county in Georgia to accomplish this.”
The three-pronged approach to address the issue of underage drinking also includes alcohol education curriculum at the middle-school level and a community awareness campaign called “Parents Who Host Lose the Most” to survey, educate, and engage parents and youth.
“Education is a critical aspect of the social hosting ordinance,” said Fayetteville Mayor Ed Johnson. “We’re not trying to intentionally be punitive, but to bring it to the parents’ attention that it exists and it’s all about responsibility to curb and potentially eliminate it.”
The Project Northland curriculum includes a strong parent component that encourages families to discuss risks and consequences of underage drinking and establish clear norms for non-use. One middle school piloted the program during the 2014-15 academic year. Positive results and support from both families and the school system resulted in funding for Project Northland in all grades in all five of the county’s middle schools this year.
As part of the awareness campaign, students produced several PSAs along with a six-session TV series centered on the consequences associated with underage drinking. The APP’s youth leadership team planned and implemented a town hall meeting that 300 parents, teens, and community leaders attended.
“That’s the strength of what transpires here—that whenever we identify a problem, and this happens to be one of them, that we come together in collaboration and cooperation,” said Johnson. “Even though one person or organization may take the lead on it, we gather behind them and provide the resources, support, and a true sense of community coming together.”
Read the Fayette County News article, “Community Group Wants Stricter Law for Parents that Host ‘Drinking Parties’ “
Related Georgia Family Connection story:
There hasn’t been a single minor killed in a car crash involving an underage drunk driver in Dawson County in more than six years. What, then, prompted Dawson County Family Connection to lead an effort to adopt a countywide ordinance that holds parents accountable if they allow their kids’ friends to drink on their property?
Read “Dawson County’s New Ordinance Warns Parents: Don’t Be a Party to Underage Drinking.”
If you have questions about Fayette FACTOR and the strategies behind the new ordinance, contact Becky Smith.