Recently, social host ordinances (or SHOs) have been receiving a lot of attention across the state of Texas. With the passage of SHOs in both El Paso and San Antonio, Texans Standing Tall wants to take the time to explain what social host ordinances are and how they help reduce underage social access to alcohol.
Alcohol is the most commonly used substance among youth. Of the 45% of high schoolers who drink, 81% of underage drinkers say that they most often get alcohol from parties and friends. Some parents may allow underage drinking parties because they think it keeps their kids safe and prevents them from driving. However, limited or no supervision combined with heavy drinking creates an unsafe environment where problems beyond drinking and driving occur, including violence and assaults, binge drinking and alcohol poisoning, sexual assault, unplanned sexual activity, combination drug use, and property damage and vandalism.
Research indicates that social host ordinances are a successful way to reduce underage drinking and the associated negative consequences. A social host is a person who provides space for underage youth to drink alcohol. The ordinance is a civil law that holds hosts accountable for allowing underage alcohol use on their property, regardless of who purchased the alcohol.
Texas has a strong statewide law – the Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor Law – which states that giving alcohol to minors is a Class A misdemeanor – just one degree below a felony. Punishment includes up to $4000 in fines, up to one year in jail, or both, and an automatic 180-day suspension of the offender’s driver’s license. However, because this offense is classified as “criminal,” the burden on law enforcement to provide sufficient evidence for conviction is high. This often results in cases being dismissed without anyone being held accountable for providing alcohol to minors at an underage drinking party.
Texans Standing Tall recently worked with Circles of San Antonio (COSA) to help pass a SHO in San Antonio. COSA conducted underage drinking surveys in San Antonio, and they found that 90% of parents believed that underage drinking is a problem; 87% of adults thought that parents should be held responsible for the actions of minors that occurred on their property. 93% of the law enforcement surveyed thought underage drinking was a moderate to severe problem in San Antonio, and 79% of law enforcement surveyed believed that social hosts should be held accountable for parties. This research helped inform COSA’s strategy to pursue a civil SHO. Thanks to COSA’s hard work, the San Antonio SHO passed, and they became the largest city in the country to have a civil SHO. The San Antonio SHO will go into effect on March 1, 2017.
Civil social hosts ordinances are an alternative route for reducing youth social access to alcohol. Local civil social host ordinances are more easily enforced and serve as another tool to reduce underage drinking. Civil cases require a lower burden of proof – “clear and convincing evidence” instead of evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt.” They typically have lower fines than a criminal law, and they also do not have punishments like jail-time and license suspension associated with them.
A civil SHO is a useful tool for communities seeking to hold adults accountable for underage drinking. With the passage of civil SHOs in two of the largest cities in Texas, this strategy has momentum, and we are excited about helping communities pursue their own civil social host ordinance. Contact Anne-Shirley Schreiner at aschreiner@TexansStandingTall.org if you are interested in receiving more information about reducing underage social access to alcohol in your community!