Politics & Government

Macon-Bibb considering making property owners liable for underage drinking

A local organization is asking Macon-Bibb County commissioners to pass an ordinance that would fine property owners for underage drinking violations.

Volunteer Macon, a nonprofit that’s dedicated to volunteerism and community engagement, presented details Tuesday to the city-county commission’s Public Safety Committee about underage drinking. According to a draft of an ordinance the group provided, fines for property owners would start at $200 for the first underage drinking offense. Commissioners said they wanted more clarification on issues such as liability before making a decision on the “social host” ordinance.

The social host ordinance would hold non-commercial individuals responsible for underage drinking on property they own, lease or rent.

Commissioner Gary Bechtel asked about the liability for parents of teenagers who throw a party when their parents are out of town. He also said there could be issues with property owners who lease out their places.

“In Macon-Bibb we have a lot of college students,” Bechtel said. “We’re going to get a lot of blowback from these owners.”

Michael Yanosy, chairman of Volunteer Macon, said the draft of the ordinance presented Tuesday used the stiffest language possible. The organization would incorporate input from commissioners into the final version.

The organization said studies show Bibb County schools have a higher percentage of underage alcohol use compared with the state and Atlanta’s public schools.

Data from ZIP codes 31204, 32106 and 31210 shows the average middle school student has his first alcoholic beverage by the age of 11, according to Volunteer Macon.

“Generally there’s a perception that underage drinking is wrong, but there won’t be much of a (consequence) if I do it,” Yanosy said.

Five social host ordinances have been approved in Georgia, including in Cobb County and Kennesaw.

A 1985 state law addresses civil liability for alcoholic consumption by minors, but it’s up to local governments to uphold that, Yanosy said.

Local law enforcement would have the burden of proof before any fine can be levied.

“It’s a tool for our parents to say ‘hey, we’ll be responsible parents’ and a tool for law enforcement to get around ambiguous circumstances,” Yanosy said.

Mayor Robert Reichert said the draft also mentioned public parks as places where fines could be given out for underage drinking. thus making the government responsible.

“We don’t want any unintended consequences,” he said.

To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623.