Monday, December 16, 2019
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Md. social hosting law said to be inadequate

A Montgomery County delegate wants to change the law in Maryland that imposes what he feels is an inadequate fine to deter adults from providing alcohol to unrelated minors in their homes, the Bethesda Beat magazine reports.

29 states allow underage drinking under the supervision of a parent.

Parents who host underage drinking parties could face jail time if the General Assembly passes a bill that Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, Democrat of District 15, wants to propose this year.

Under current law, adults who furnish alcohol to underage kids who aren’t direct family members face a $2,500 maximum fine. Mr Fraser-Hidalgo wants to send those adults to jail for up to a year for the first offense and two years for the second and impose fines of up to $5,000 and $7,500, respectively, for anyone who hosts a drinking party with children to whom they aren’t related.

“We commend Delegate Fraser-Hidalgo for recognizing the appalling inadequacy of the current Maryland social host laws and stand 100 percent behind him in his effort to increase the severity of penalties,” the magazine quoted Pamela and David Murk as saying in a statement provided by their attorney. They’re the parents of Alex Murk, who was killed by a drunk 19-year-old driver who had been drinking under the tutelage of a friend’s father.

“We can only hope the Maryland General Assembly has enough moral gumption to do the right thing by passing a bill that would deter … parents in our communities from hosting underage drinking parties so no other family has to endure the incredible pain we have in losing a son or daughter ever again.”

Research findings

Some people may argue that such a law wouldn’t serve as a deterrent, thinking that teens will drink anyway. This isn’t necessarily true.

Research has shown that teens whose parents consistently deliver a message about the dangers of underage drinking are less likely to consume alcohol or drive under the influence of alcohol. In fact, this research has been on the published scientific record for several decades:

While parental use and attitudes do not seem to significantly affect children’s alcohol use, the extent to which parents prohibit children from using alcohol at home tends to reduce children’s alcohol involvement. … Findings suggest that, while parents’ alcohol use influences children’s alcohol use through extensive interaction, parental control of underage alcohol use in the household appears to reduce children’s involvement in underage alcohol use.

Laws in other states

The underage drinking laws in Maryland are typical, and only five states provide no exceptions: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, New Hampshire, and West Virginia. In these five states, individuals under 21 aren’t allowed to consume alcohol under any circumstances.

In 45 states, various exceptions are allowed to the underage drinking laws, including 26 states that allow drinking alcohol for religious purposes and 29 that allow consumption of alcohol by minors on private property, where alcohol isn’t sold, with parental consent.

The proposed law described above wouldn’t change either of these exceptions, which are currently on the books in Maryland, but it would change the punishment for adults who provide alcohol to underage subjects to whom they aren’t related.

We support this change

No state allows teens to drink under the supervision of an adult non-parent, including Maryland. This fact means elected officials who make those laws think it’s a good idea to restrict underage drinking when teens aren’t under the supervision of their own parents, although the severity of the sentence for “social hosting” convictions varies widely from state to state.

Furthermore, research tells us that if parents talk with their kids more about the dangers of alcohol, those kids will be less likely to abuse alcohol. The big question is, then, Will adding jail time and increasing the fines for adults who provide alcohol to teens to whom they’re not related strengthen the deterrent value of our laws and reduce underage drinking?

What do you think?

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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