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Tyler County Commission OKs Social Hosting Ordinance

By Staff | Jun 15, 2016

MIDDLEBOURNE – Tyler County law enforcement will now be enforcing a county ordinance aimed at preventing underage drinking and substance abuse.

The new law known as the Social Hosting Ordinance became effective June 8 when the county commissioners approved the second reading of the ordinance by a unanimous vote. Commissioner Charles Smith was absent from the meeting.

The ordinance gives the Tyler County Sheriff’s Department and local police departments another tool when it comes to preventing underage drinking and substance abuse. The idea for the law was brought to the table by the Tyler County Prevention Coalition, Tyler County Prosecuting Attorney Luke Furbee prepared the ordinance for the county with the support of the Sheriff’s department and local law enforcement.

According to state law, the county commissioners are authorized to enact ordinances for the elimination of hazards to public health and safety and to abate anything they deem to be a public nuisance within the county.

The county commission believes that the underage consumption of alcoholic beverages and consumption of illegal substances poses an increased threat to the general public health, safety and welfare in that it leads to alcohol and drug abuse by underage persons, physical altercations, violent crimes, destruction of property, injuries, driving under the influence, vandalism, litter, public intoxication, disorderly conduct and noise and traffic disturbances.

The commission found that social parties where underage consumption occurs does constitute a public nuisance. The ordinance is effective throughout Tyler County, regardless of whether the territory is incorporated or unincorporated.

Although it is already illegal for adults to contribute to underage drinking and substance abuse, the new law creates a misdemeanor offense and imposes penalties for any adult who provides real property, space, area, personal property, money, credit, financing, supervision, food, drinks, decorations, alibi, alcoholic beverages, illegal substances, needles, or drug paraphernalia for a gathering of two or more persons.

The Magistrate Court of Tyler County and the Circuit Court of Tyler County will have jurisdiction with respect to misdemeanors under the ordinance. Penalties for violating the law range from fist offense fines of One Hundred Dollars to not less than Three Hundred Dollars nor more than One Thousand for third or subsequent offenses. Underage person means a person who has not yet reached the age of twenty one.

According to Alex King, Tyler County Prevention Specialist for Westbrook Health Services, the TCPC became aware of social hosting laws from Bill O’Dell of the Putnam (County) Wellness Coalition. Putnam was the first county in the state to adopt its own Social Host Ordinance, and Tyler is among the first few counties to follow its lead.

TCPC encourages adults to learn about the dangers of underage drinking and suggests that parents and guardians speak with children about these issues as early as possible. Many addictions begin with underage drinking, which increases the potential for violent and destructive behaviors, as well as risky sexual encounters.

“A common misconception among parents and adults who provide a place for youth to drink is that allowing them to do so under their supervision makes the activity less dangerous, but that cannot be farther from the truth,” said King. “Allowing youth to break the law only means that they are perceiving the act as less dangerous and may be more likely to take additional risks. It also sends mixed signals about what behaviors you condone and which other laws they should follow. The excuse of letting them drink under your supervision doesn’t work, because it doesn’t mean that they’re only drinking under your supervision.”

Those willing to host a social event and allow underage drinking may see it as a so-called rite of passage, something they did when they were that age, but it is not a victimless crime. Minors may be using alcohol as a means to cope with underlying issues. Dependencies often take root at an early age when people start abusing substances as a means to escape other problems. Adults should also keep in mind that those who attend parties may bring more than alcohol.

King noted that while substance abuse is worth a great deal of concern, concern should not become fear and get in the way of taking action. He said, the Tyler County Sheriff’s Department, Sistersville Police Department, and Paden City Police Department will now be enforcing this law. They are already aware of several campground locations where parties are known to be hosted and will be keeping an eye on social media pages where youth might share pictures from these gatherings. Persons of any age are asked to come forward with knowledge about upcoming gatherings where minors are expected to take part in illegal activities.

“We have to have hope,” he said. “There are measures we can take when it comes to preventing substance abuse. We have to look at risk and protective factors and ask ourselves what we can do to promote the healthiest choices. If we can stop even one person from ever starting, that’s a better life, a happier family, and a stronger community.”

TCPC’s mission is to prevent the misuse of prescription drugs, illicit drugs, underage drinking, and to promote overall well-being by focusing on the positive, raising concern for the issues, and providing hope for a better tomorrow.

If you are interested in joining the Tyler County Prevention Coalition’s efforts, contact King: 304-494-8400 or aking@westbrookhealth.com.