Org wants adults accountable for underage drinking in PA

Published 5:51 pm Friday, December 2, 2016

One organization wants to reduce and prevent underage drinking and drug use in Port Arthur through the civil law.

Harriet Mitchell and Ales Flood with the South East Texas Council On Alcohol & Drug Abuse (SETCADA) presented a proposed social hosting accountability ordinance at the regular meeting of the Port Arthur City Council on Nov. 29.

A local social host accountability ordinance is defined as a law that holds adults accountable for providing a location where underage drinking and related nuisances occur at house parties.

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City Attorney Val Tizeno gave an introduction before the two women spoke.

She said the effort started three years ago while participating with SETCADA.

Joseph Broussard, a former city of Port Arthur employee, spearheaded things.

Currently, there are no social hosting ordinances in the State of Texas and Port Arthur will continue to look into the matter.

“Right now this is an educative tool to know what the issue are,” she said. “San Antonio and El Paso are very close to writing an ordinance.”

Mitchell is a licensed chemical dependency counselor and certified prevention specialist.

She said for 60 years SETCADA has been a leader in the Golden Triangle Community for substance and alcohol abuse treatment, prevention and education.

Their current program includes an adolescent (13-17) outpatient treatment, residential adult (18+) male facility and adult men and women outpatient treatment.

SETCADA Community Coalition Partnerships is a prevention and education program whose mission is to reduce and prevent underage drinking, marijuana and prescription drug use within the targeted population of 12-25 year olds.

SETCADA surveyed 1,173 youths at Memorial High School and the Ninth-Grade Center and discovered:

Underage drinking

  • 511 severe
  • 360 moderate
  • 164 slight

Underage drinking and driving

  • 405 severe
  • 373 moderate
  • 244 slight

Drinking at parties

  • 679 severe
  • 264 moderate
  • 106 slight

Mitchell said there is a problem in the area and a huge problem at parties.

“Underage drinking at parties create opportunities for other substance use (i.e. synthetic marijuana), as well as early onset addiction,” she said.

Before reaching age 15, a child is six times likely to develop a dependency problem. A child’s brain is not finished developing until the age of 25.

Adolescents may get into fights and unplanned sexual activity. They also tend to drink more at parties than adults because the adolescents don’t know when they will drink again so they drink more.

SETCADA wants to focus on the civil law rather than criminal law because a civil ordinance is much easier to enforce than the existing criminal law, while reducing and preventing underage drinking. Civil fines enforce the ordinance such as a speeding ticket.

Mitchell said social host ordinances work because:

  • Most citations are for the first offense
  • Over time, there are fewer police call for parties
  • Makes it easier to intervene quickly and efficiently before a large party gest out of hand and becomes criminal
  • Reduce access, prevent addiction, deaths, etc.
  • Reduction in underage drinking and driving
  • More than 150 cites and 24 states have adopted social host ordinances
  • Port Arthur will be the first city in Texas “because it’s the right thing to do.”

Mayor Derrick Freeman said parents are working late night shifts in industry and they don’t know where their children are at all times.

Morris Albright III, District 3 councilman, said he understands the problem, but he was concerned about overreach by the government on the part of civil liberties of the homeowner.

He added that unless there four or five deaths resulting from the senior prom, he doesn’t see the need for the ordinance.

Tiffany Hamilton, District 2 councilwoman, said Mothers Against Drunk Driving could brings photographs of accidents after proms to be seen.

Willie “Bae” Lewis Jr., District 5 councilman, said the property owners would take responsibility. He then asked what the fine would be. Tizeno said it would range from a minimum of $1 to a maximum of $500.

“We need to start with the maximum to deter this and nip this in the bud,” he said.

Hamilton said she would like to spend some time with the police department to craft the ordinance’s language.

Keith Richard, District 4 councilman, said as a pastor he’s a strong supporter of the ordinance to protect the children.

Mayor Pro Tem Raymond Scott Jr. said he planned to attend the next SETCADA meeting.

Charlotte Moses, Position 7 councilwoman, said they need some controls in place to save the children.

“Parents don’t know what’s going on in their homes,” she said.

Osman Swati, District 6 councilman, said he wasn’t fully aware how serious the problem was. He cautioned citizens’ civil liberties must not be reproached.

He favored looking at the language of other cities that have the social hosting ordinance.

Albright agreed and asked the city do some research before proceeding.

He asked if the ordinance could be used for the police to gain access to a home. Tizeno said no, but it’s a tool police can use.

If a warning is issued, then the resident knows about the disturbance. If it’s a first offense, the resident will then pay out of pocket.

Albright said that is disturbing the peace and how would the police know there’s underage drinking occurring at the residence.

Tizeno said police would not have to enter a house and they could hand the citation to someone over the fence.

Albright said the larger offense is the parents giving alcohol to underage children.

“I will hold my comments until an ordinance is written,” he said.

Lewis said if a notice is served to someone on the property, the police have a record.

David Ball: 409-721-2427