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November 22, 2011 9:54 am

EDITORIAL: Lawmakers need to re-examine social hosting ordinances

Written by Tessa Schweigert

Hosts of underage drinking parties should be held responsible

True or false: It’s illegal to host an underage drinking party in Wyoming.

It may seem like a straightforward question easily answered with true or false. But shades of gray muddle the law when it comes to hosts of underage drinking house parties, so unfortunately, it’s not a simple answer.

Yes, Wyoming has a law making it illegal to host a party where minors consume alcohol. That’s true. The tricky gray area comes with the word “minor.” The law fails to specify underage drinkers as those under 21, so it really only applies to minors under 18.

It’s important to close this loophole in the current law, especially in college towns like Powell, where a majority of underage drinkers fall into that gray area. For local house parties where the police were called, most underage drinkers — 71 percent — were 18- to 21-year-olds, according to Powell Police Department data. Only 29 percent of underage drinkers at those house parties were under 18.

Research also shows that most underage drinkers receive their alcohol at a house party, not a local liquor establishment.

Many times, teens refuse to identify the adult acquaintance or friend’s parent who supplied the alcohol, making it difficult for police to prove who provided it. Social hosting ordinances can hold adults accountable for allowing underage drinking parties even when it’s not possible to prosecute an adult for furnishing the alcohol.

“A social hosting ordinance has been demonstrated nationwide to deter underage drinking and to discourage adults from providing alcohol to minors,” said Sarah Mikesell-Growney with the Park County Coalition Against Substance Abuse.

The tragic death of a Powell High School teenager earlier this year reinforces the importance of such laws. Seventeen-year-old Tylor Burke died in a fatal crash in March after drinking at his mother’s home and visiting a bar.

Two weeks ago, his mother, Donna Marie Burke Brunko, was sentenced to five days in jail and six months of probation for the misdemeanor charge of allowing a house party. Basin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Harrington also ordered her to speak with parents about refusing to allow underage drinking parties.

Unfortunately, Burke’s death isn’t the first local tragedy related to underage drinking, but as a community, we must do everything we can to try to make it the last.

The Powell City Council had the opportunity to close the state law’s loophole here last June, but unfortunately, failed to do so. Councilmen voted 5-2 to defeat a proposed law that would have made it illegal to knowingly host parties where minors — including those 18 to 21 years old — consume alcohol or drugs.

Lawmakers at the local and state level need to re-examine social hosting laws and make them apply to all underage drinking parties, not just some.

2 comments

  • Comment Link November 22, 2011 9:59 am posted by Disgusted taxpayer

    Spin it any way you want...THIS WOMAN WAS DEAD WRONG TO CONDONE BOOZE TO A KID.No excuses,no more leniency because they are a specific gender.

  • Comment Link November 23, 2011 1:20 pm posted by Steve Moseley

    At last, something upon which Disgusted Taxpayer and I totally agree. These tragedies are so preventable, which somehow makes them all the more heartbreaking.

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