A Social Host Ordinance is a tool to assist law enforcement in combating underage drinking and social hosting by holding adults accountable who allow underage drinking to occur at parties. The ordinance would create civil penalties – not criminal charges – and deter illegal behavior among adults who are responsible for the safety of young people on their property.

Police Chief William McManus and Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) presented the Social Host Accountability proposal in the Mayor’s Governance Committee on Aug. 17, 2016, and in the Criminal Justice Public Safety Committee on Sept. 7, 2016. In both hearings the measure was voted to move forward.

City Council will vote on the proposed Social Host Ordinance Thursday.

I am a concerned private citizen of District 2, a retired U.S. Air Force medic, a disabled veteran, a small business owner, a landlord, a land owner, an active volunteer member of the Circles of San Antonio Community Coalition, and most importantly, a parent. I am passionate about the safety of our community, especially the young people of San Antonio.

Chapter 106 of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code makes it unlawful for a person under the age of 21 years to attempt to purchase or consume alcoholic beverages. It also makes it unlawful for any person to sell or provide any alcoholic beverage to any person under the age of 21.

The same code allows for parents, spouse, or guardian to provide alcohol their own minor while in direct supervision and in plain eyesight of the minor while consuming the alcohol. In essence, Texas law states a parent can provide alcohol to their own child, but not to anyone else’s.

These laws take time to process, get caught up in the courts, and the burden of proof falls on officers to determine which adult provided alcohol for a party. A civil penalty like a Social Host Ordinance allows for a lower burden of proof and aids officers in the ability to write citations on the spot.

It is fast, yet it allows for due process and also has a cost recovery component to recoup the expenses of dispatching officers to break up parties that get out of hand. These costs are currently borne by taxpayers. The citation is similar to a speeding ticket and will serve as a deterrent to hosting large, unruly parties where kids get most of their alcohol, according to the 2010 Texas School Survey.

Many adults believe consuming large quantities of alcohol is considered a rite of passage in our community, and that “kids will be kids,” and will experiment with alcohol no matter what. The truth is, our kids look to us for guidance. Data from the Texas School Survey shows that parental disapproval is the number one factor in determining whether or not Texas kids will drink – not peers, social media, or movies. When parents turn a blind eye on these parties, or even worse, provide alcohol or a place for their kids and their kids’ friends to get drunk, kids absorb this message of tacit approval.

Experts know there is no safe place for kids to drink. Taking away keys doesn’t stop anyone from binge drinking; in fact, it makes it easier for them to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol. Besides drunk driving incidents, underage drinking parties are linked to violence, assaults and fights, other drug use, property damage, sexual assaults, and alcohol poisonings, according to the San Antonio Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse’s 2014 Community Needs Assessment. Youth who abuse alcohol are at greater risk of addiction later in life, as well as higher rates of academic failure, mental health problems, and alcohol-related illness.

Large drinking parties of high school or college-aged kids can also disrupt peaceful neighborhoods and result in property damage and lowered property values. Allowing underage drinking is like leaking sludge in our San Antonio community.

Civil citations such as Social Host Ordinances are effective and have a positive impact in combating underage drinking. Research indicates that Social Host Laws are among the most effective form of public policy in reducing binge drinking and drunk driving. The National Research Council, the Institute of Medicine, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention all list Social Host Laws as a best practice.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Parent Teacher Association, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism support Social Host Ordinances as well. Here in our city, the San Antonio Police Department, San Antonio Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, and Bethel Prevention Coalition Stop-Act Initiatives support local initiatives that deter the hosting of underage parties and change social norms around underage drinking.

And I, as a private citizen and champion for a healthy and safe future for the young people of San Antonio, am hoping the City Council will agree with them.

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Tom Marino

Tom Marino is a 20-year Veteran of the U.S. Air Force Medical Service Corps and has provided consultation services in expert witness review/testimony in alcohol liability cases. He has developed a “Safe...