Underage drinking banned in homes

New ordinance would hold property owner/renter accountable

Imagine this: a wild party is going on inside a private residence, and one of the underage kids gets ill – possibly in dire need of medical attention. But because nearly everyone at the party is under the legal age to drink alcohol, no one is willing to call 9-1-1 and get the ailing kid medical attention.
“I have a 19 year old and a 15 year old,” said Deputy Police Chief Ralph Scianni. “I’d hate to think that either one would be afraid to call the police if someone needed help in a situation like that.”
If the City Council passes an ordinance introduced at the Sept. 22 meeting, Bayonne will be the last municipality in Hudson County to fix a loophole in state law, restricting teenage drinking in private residences.
At the moment, state law prohibits underage drinking in public places, which some believe encourages underage drinking to occur behind closed doors. While underage drinking is illegal, the ordinance would allow police to crack down on parties and other activities in homes and to hold accountable adults who allow these parties to happen.


“This ordinance is not designed to have police kick down anybody’s door.” – Deputy Chief Ralph Scianni

“This ordinance is not designed to have police kick down anybody’s door,” Scianni said. “It is designed to make sure kids get the help they need, and to hold underage people and the adults that allow them to drink accountable.”
The ordinance, which is scheduled for a public hearing and final passage at the Oct. 13 council meeting, would pertain to “underage persons on private property” by prohibiting possession or consumption with some exceptions, and would hold accountable guardians or relatives of the teens as well as those teens older than 18 but under 21. Fines range from $250 for the first offense and $350 for each subsequent offense. The court may also suspend a teen’s driving privileges for up to six months.
Exceptions to the law would include anyone who consumes alcohol as part of a religious observance. A teen who is employed in the preparation of food while enrolled in a culinary arts or hotel management course would be exempt from penalties for possession of alcohol under this ordinance.

Aimed at rowdy parties

“This is meant to stop ‘Animal House’-like abuses,” Scianni said during an interview in his office, playing down arguments that parents who give their children a glass of wine would be charged. “Those parties often get out of hand and often affect neighbors.”
The ordinance also provides an exemption for a teen who reports someone violating the law, or seeks medical help for another teen engaged in alcohol consumption.
The ordinance does not apply to teens under 18 and who do not fall under the jurisdiction of municipal court, but they can be charged under other laws for juvenile delinquency.
Richard Barba, a resident speaking on the ordinance, asked how police could enter private homes. He saw the greater need to help teens who are drinking rather than prosecute them.
Scianni said while the police are interested in helping, the ordinance is aimed at preventing people 18 but under 21 who get drunk at parties held in private homes from posing a danger to the general public by getting to them before they get into cars, and also holding the homeowner or guardian responsible.
While police – if informed of such a party – can arrest those involved by waiting outside to see who exits intoxicated, this ordinance provides another tool in dealing with these situations, he said. It is up to the judge to determine if a teen needs help.
Jaclyn Lagasca, of Partners In Prevention, the organization that has been promoting these ordinances throughout the state, said workshops in local schools are planned to alert parents about the problem and the ordinance.
Leonard Kantor, a retired police officer, said “booze parties” are a problem, especially when parents go away, and that he has seen kids as young as 15 getting drunk.
Scianni said the key to this program’s success is a strong educational element.
“This came out of a workshop with the Municipal Drug Alliance,” Scianni said. “We are taking this into the schools in order to let everyone know what this is all about.”
The Municipal Alliance is something that was established in the early 1990s under the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse as an independent body that would review and coordinate New Jersey’s efforts regarding the education, prevention, treatment, research, and evaluation for, and public awareness of, alcoholism and drug abuse. One of the tools is the Municipal Alliance Program, which is a network of volunteer driven, municipally based education and public awareness programs.
Lagasca said her group is meeting with parent-teacher organizations in the various Bayonne schools to talk about the ordinance and why it is necessary.
Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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