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Published January 25 2011

North Dakota Legislature takes aim at 'social hosts' of underage drinking

BISMARCK – A Wyndmere lawmaker wants North Dakota to adopt a “social host” law to crack down on underage drinking parties.

Senate Bill 2257 states someone who possesses or controls private property may not knowingly allow minors to drink on that property. They must also make a reasonable effort to stop the underage drinking, including calling the police.

Those who violate the proposed law would face a $500 fine, said bill sponsor Sen. Jim Dotzenrod, D-Wyndmere.

“We’ve got adults out there that are encouraging, participating, hosting these things, in a way encouraging it, and that has been frustrating for law enforcement. They feel this (law) would be a tool,” Dotzenrod said.

The bill is the result of meetings in the Wyndmere area, where some residents are exploring solutions to underage drinking, he said. They reviewed state laws and city ordinances in other states relating to social hosting and created this proposal.

“This was more to fix the responsibility for underage drinking on those people that are hosting these events. A lot of them are really rural-area beer parties,” Dotzenrod said.

Some of his fellow lawmakers expressed concerns about the bill on Monday and the liability for property owners. Sen. Carolyn Nelson, D-Fargo, asked if apartment managers were supposed to monitor all of their units to see if there was underage drinking.

Dotzenrod said the law wouldn’t add responsibility for monitoring but would make them halt a violation if they know about it.

Sen. Curtis Olafson, R-Edinburg, said North Dakota already has laws dealing with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He also expressed concern about increased liability for pasture owners if the bill passes and minors are caught drinking in fields.

Dotzenrod emphasized the bill says “may not knowingly allow” but said he is aware of the concern.

“If you all in your judgment think this is going to operate that way and it’s going to become a liability exposure, then you may not want to pass this,” he said. “I certainly, as a sponsor, am not intending that to be one of the consequences.”

Sen. Stan Lyson, R-Williston, said proving a property owner gave permission to underage drinkers is “almost unheard of.”

“Pretty soon, we better start putting the burden on the people that are drinking and the parents,” he said.

He suggested charging every person at the party with trespassing if law enforcement can’t prove the owner had knowledge the minors were there.

The bill also worries Sandy Clark of the North Dakota Farm Bureau. It isn’t landowners’ responsibility to do law enforcement’s job, she said.

“We in no way condone underage drinking. We don’t want these parties on our land, either,” she said. “But we don’t think this bill’s going to stop partying one little bit. All it’s going to do is put an undue burden on the landowner.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee did act on the bill on Monday.


Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.