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Allowing underage parties now against the law in Wadena

If you live in Wadena, it is now illegal to allow underage drinking at your property or otherwise provide the environment for it - even if you are not the actual supplier of the alcohol.

This "social host" ordinance takes effect 30 days after it was unanimously enacted by the city council on Tuesday, Sept. 13. It is not to be confused with the existing state law against directly providing alcohol to minors.

Breaking the ordinance is a misdemeanor which entails up to 90 days in jail and up to $1,000 fine.

Property owners and family members can be charged under the new ordinance, but there has to be awareness and intent.

However, if family members are away and unaware that underage drinking is going on, they will not be charged.

Heidi Happel and Laurie Laughlin from the Wadena County Public Health Department, representing the C.H.A.M.P. Coalition, spoke more about the ordinance and talked about how C.H.A.M.P. works to reduce underage substance abuse.

Happel said that 74 cities have enacted social host ordinances as of late August, and those being charged under social host ordinances tend to be just over 21.

"It considers property owners, family members at the event - regardless of age - to be a host, and where that comes into play is parents may be unaware of what's going on, and it is their son or daughter who might be providing the environment," she said, adding that the son or daughter, and not the parents, would be charged in this kind of situation.

"It does not include landlords and property owners while they are away from their property, provided they are unaware that illegal alcohol consumption has occurred on their property," she said. "It also does not cover parents who allow their own child to consume alcohol in their presence."

She said that violation of the ordinance will not result in loss of one's home or property.

Mayor Wayne Wolden asked about some of the wording in Subdivision Four, Prohibitive Acts.

"There the language says, under four, 'when a person knows, or reasonably should know that an underage person will or does consume alcohol,'" he said. "Whose decision is it that they 'should' know versus they 'do' know?"

City Attorney Jeff Pederson responded that there has to be an element of intent to charge someone. For example, if a landlord is driving by and thinks there might be a party going on, it doesn't fall under the intent of allowing underage drinking.

"This is aimed at those people who are allowing parties to happen intentionally," he said. An example would be parents who tell their kids it is OK to have their friends come over to drink, even if they forbid the kids themselves to drink.

Another example would be landlords who are informed by a tenant about an upcoming party, and the landlord allows for it and advises the tenant to keep a low profile.

Pederson said that it is a law enforcement tool for when officers are breaking up parties - especially if they can't find out who actually supplied the alcohol.