Apr 112012
Authors: Jason Pohl

A measure that could hold party hosts or even tenants and property owners accountable for underage drinking –– regardless of who supplied the alcohol –– may soon be coming to Fort Collins if one group’s efforts are successful.

Team Fort Collins, a local nonprofit that advocates against substance abuse and underage drinking, is proposing a so-called “Social Host Ordinance.” The measure is still in the early planning process, but it would likely be modeled after similar legislation that has been implemented in communities across the country in a mounting crackdown on underage drinking, specifically among parents of children under age 18.

While other communities target the guardians of young people who may let drinking happen at home, bringing this ordinance to a college town could mean anyone renting a property would be held accountable for any underage drinking, potentially adding further sanctions, police presence and university oversight into student conflicts.

In other words, it’s all about the venue.

“A Social Host Ordinance is one of several nationally recognized community strategies that could enhance these existing efforts,” said Dawn Nannini with Team Fort Collins in an email to the Collegian, referring to existing programs like party registration and community outreach efforts.

“We will be inviting a student perspective when we begin to explore this strategy in more depth as far as its appropriateness for Fort Collins,” she added.

The ordinance would ultimately be decided by the Fort Collins City Council if the group continues to pursue it. No timetable has been announced.

Nannini declined further comment on the specifics of the program and said it was “too early” to begin speculating on the future of this proposal. She also did not specify what tools or research is being used in the continued planning.

In recent weeks, the measure has been brought before groups across the city including the Associated Students of CSU and Fort Collins Police Services.

“As we begin to explore the appropriateness of such an ordinance for our community, we will be considering multiple perspectives,” Nannini said. “This is in no way intended to target or make CSU students feel alienated.”

But members of the Associated Students of CSU said they have critical concerns about the viability of this sort of program and the implications it could have on the student-city relationship moving forward.

“My initial feeling on this is that we need to be careful with these kinds of regulations,” said Chase Eckerdt, director of Governmental Affairs with ASCSU. “It has the potential to really disrupt students’ lives.”

The disruption could come in a variety of ways, he said, explaining that every legal sanction must be followed up with university action. This type of enforcement could have far-reaching implications all the way to graduation and university standing.

Current laws are already in place that target minors in possession (MIP) and people who supply alcohol to people under 21 years old.

Eckerdt explained that a critical role of ASCSU is to advocate for student well-being. A major part of that, he said, comes from education –– something Team Fort Collins prides itself on. An additional element hinges on keeping students –– mostly legal adults –– safe when they take part in illegal or “experimental” activities.

“We have to, from a student leadership perspective, take that perspective into account,” he said.

Beyond that, much of the concern from ASCSU stems from how, in some ways, this program seemingly unties efforts made to mend a relationship with the city on these sorts of issues.

“We’ve really, really tried the last couple years to step to the plate with the community and find collaborative approaches to dealing with alcohol and everything else that comes with having a college in the community,” Eckerdt said, stressing that more legal action would not be the best method.

Some of these efforts include a more prominent use of RamRide’s non-judgmental ride home, party registration and the recent partnership with the city for the late-night bus route intended to curb drunken driving.

ASCSU has not yet taken an official position on the subject because of how early it is in the process and how little information is currently available.

Enforcement and logistics are a concern for Fort Collins Police Services, who have had just one preliminary meeting with Team Fort Collins on the issue, according to Capt. James Szakmeister.

Szakmeister explained that there are several questions on the table during the early planning process including benefits, potential problems and the viability of using already limited police, especially with existing alcohol laws.

“Right now, there are more questions than answers,” he said. “On first blush, there are some items that are problematic with this ordinance, but in order to not prejudge, we’re reserving our comments until we know all the facts of the proposal.”

Senior Reporter Jason Pohl can be reached at news@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 4:14 pm

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