County passes consumption ordinance

Posted March 6, 2013 at 6:49 pm

By Kim Brooks, Express Editor

Jones County youth, those under 21 years of age, will soon be faced with a new county ordinance. The Jones County Board of Supervisors approved the final reading of the consumption ordinance, amending Chapter 13: Consumption of Alcohol by Persons Under Legal Age.

The purpose of the ordinance “is to protect the interest, welfare, health and safety of citizens in Jones County by prohibiting the consumption of alcoholic beverages by persons under the age of 21.”

Prior to the consumption ordinance, Jones County law enforcement, police and sheriff’s deputies, only had the possession law as a tool to charge youth with possession of alcohol. Both Sheriff Greg Graver and County Attorney Phil Parsons explained that possession strictly refers to someone under the legal age physically possessing alcohol. Consumption now allows law enforcement to charge for drinking (consuming) alcohol.

Through a variety of indicators such as the smell of alcohol on one’s breath, unsteady posture, bloodshot eyes, empty containers, admissions, eye witnesses, etc., law enforcement can determine whether a youth is under the influence and cite them on scene.

Graver said in the past, they would see multiple youth at a gathering, but could only charge those holding a can or bottle of alcohol. He said parents would complain that their son/daughter was charged with possession but not so-and-so’s child. Now, more are susceptible to charges if they’ve been drinking.

The ordinance defines “consumption” as: “The ingestion of, or physical condition of having ingested, any substance.”

“Kids know how to get around possession,” said Graver. He said some know how to skirt around the law. “We need to hold everyone responsible and accountable for those who have consumed alcohol.”

Graver said the consumption ordinance is the county’s “single best tool” to fight alcohol-related charges. “This is huge for local law enforcement!” commented Graver.

While these charges do come with severe financial consequences, Graver said they are not in the business of generating revenue for the county. “We’re trying to deter youth possessing and consuming alcohol,” he said.

The penalties for violating this ordinance include a simple misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $200 for first offense, $300 for a second offense and $500 for a third offense.

Graver offered that this law still does allow youth to drink at home or, “consumption by a minor within a private home and with the knowledge, presence or consent of the minor’s parents/guardians.” However, Graver warned that once a youth enters the public eye after having been drinking in the above instance, they would be charged with consumption.

“Once they endanger the public or themselves,” Graver said, “we can charge.”

This ordinance was introduced to the Board of Supervisors by the Jones County Safe & Healthy Youth Coalition (JCSHYC), through the work of their Police Committee, made up of Ranger John Klein, Sheriff Greg Graver, County Attorney Phil Parsons, Anamosa City Council member Bill Feldmann, Monticello Police Chief Britt Smith, Anamosa Police Chief Bob Simonson and Colin Ryan, a member of the Coalition.

They researched other county’s consumption ordinances and talked to several other Iowa law enforcement and put this one together to fit Jones County. Parsons said the fines were chosen based on what worked locally.

“What this means,” expressed Patti Bammert, JCSHYC SPF SIG coordinator, “is that law enforcement will now have the tools to be able to charge those who are underage and have consumed alcohol, not just the individuals who have alcohol in their possession.”

Parsons said, “This is a tool Jones County law enforcement appreciate in their tool box.”

As far as how useful this ordinance will be for Jones County, Parsons said, “Time will tell.”

With Social Host gaining momentum and being more widely accepted, Parsons said consumption is still new territory for Iowa. Some counties are tying it to Social Host, while Jones County opted to pass both separately.

“If we put both ordinances together,” said Graver, “it’d be overwhelming for everyone to understand. We didn’t want to throw out too much all at once. Once we succeeded with Social Host, we moved on to consumption.”

Parsons, who’s aware of the number of charges coming in, said the Supervisors saw how successful Social Host was over the past couple of years. They voted unanimously to pass the consumption ordinance, wanting to look out for the best interest of the youth in Jones County.