City Council 

Strohmaier targets "social hosts"

Missoula City Councilman Dave Strohmaier is again proposing an ordinance likely to raise eyebrows among local civil libertarians. The two-term councilman on Wednesday unveiled his vision for a citywide law that would empower law enforcement to fine adults who host events involving underage drinking.

"We'll run it up the flagpole and see what folks have to say," says Strohmaier.

The councilman proposes a $500 fine for the first violation of the "social host ordinance." Those found guilty of violating the law, a misdemeanor, would also be held responsible for the costs of police officer hours accrued enforcing the ordinance. Two-time offenders would be sentenced to two days in jail.

"I have that there to send a clear message," he says.

Missoula has one of the highest underage drinking rates in the nation, as much as 16 percent higher than the national average, according to the Missoula Underage Substance Abuse Prevention Team. Strohmaier says his ordinance constitutes an effort to curb that trend and, more specifically, cut down on drunk driving.

"It's a very real problem for our community," says Strohmaier, who has also recently tackled topics like texting while driving, refusing DUI tests and LGBT discrimination.

His proposal aims to punish adults who host underage parties, rather than parents sharing a glass of wine with a teenager over dinner. The latter is protected under state law. "The applicability is fairly narrow," Strohmaier says.

Twenty-three states have social host ordinances on the books. In Montana, Helena became the first municipality to create such a law in 2008. Great Falls and Billings have since followed suit.

Based on constitutional concerns, Helena's law is now being challenged. Defense attorney John Doubek in September filed a motion to dismiss charges against three individuals cited under the social host ordinance. Doubek asserts the law invades citizens' right to privacy in their own homes. A judge will hear that case beginning Friday.

In Missoula, Strohmaier aims to hold a public hearing on the matter in the coming months.

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