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Renville County adopts social host ordinance

Morgayne Bauer, a 10th-grader, left, was among four Renville County high school students who voiced support for a social host ordinance during a hearing Tuesday conducted by the county board of commissioners. Also pictured from second left are sophomores Jack Bryan and Kalle Hatch, and junior Chelsea Ahl. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

OLIVIA -- High school students, a mother of five teenagers, and the sheriff were among those urging the Renville County Board of Commissioners to adopt a social host ordinance.

The commissioners did exactly that on a unanimous vote taken a few minutes after the hearing Tuesday morning in Olivia. The ordinance makes it a criminal offense for an adult to knowingly provide an environment where underage drinking takes place.

Cautioning that the ordinance will not be the "end all'' to solving the problem of underage drinking, Renville County Sheriff Scott Hable offered his support for it, saying: "I think it will be a step in the right direction.''

It's a direction that members of the Renville Alliance for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drugs have urged the county to pursue. Annie Tepfer, its director, had originally asked the commissioners to consider adopting the ordinance. She was joined at the hearing by four high school members of the alliance.

They pointed to a survey of students in the county. It found that their top sources for alcohol were "friends'' and "at parties.'' The ordinance will "reduce the availability of alcohol to youths,'' said Jack Bryan, a high school sophomore.

"It will help get the kids away from alcohol and make this a safer place for youth and everyone,'' said Bryan after he and students Chelsea Ahl, Morgayne Bauer, and Kalle Hatch offered a variety of reasons to support the ordinance.

Others speaking in favor of the ordinance told the commissioners that there are adults who have knowingly provided young people with alcohol and the places to consume it. Nancy Standfuss, Olivia Chamber of Commerce director and supporter of the Renville Alliance for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drugs, read a letter from one parent describing his concerns on learning that his child had attended one such party.

Mary Dawn Hatch, a mother of five children ages 13 to 19, said she believes the ordinance will help curtail the parties and reduce the peer pressure that young people face to attend them.

She also said it was important to send a message to the adults who allow the parties. "They need to be responsible for making bad decisions,'' said Hatch.

County Attorney Dave Torgelson said the ordinance is modeled after one adopted in Yellow Medicine County. The city of Fairfax has previously adopted its own social host ordinance. The commissioners said they would like to see communities across the county adopt a uniform ordinance.

The county attorney said the ordinance would help address cases in which juveniles obtain alcohol at parties, but cover for adult offenders by claiming: "they grabbed one from the fridge, the person didn't even know.''

He also noted that rural locations -- whether gravel pits or remote farm homes -- are popular sites for underage parties.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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