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Parent-hosted drinking parties are illegal

Sun., May 18, 2008, midnight

Parents planning to host post-prom or graduation drinking parties should make other plans.

Even though it’s legal for kids to drink in private homes with their parents present, it’s not legal for other kids to imbibe without their own parents’ supervision – even if those parents gave permission for another adult to watch over their child.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich expects deputies to uphold the state law “when they encounter this type of activity.”

“Guardianship is not something that can be transferred for a one-night party,” said Sgt. Dave Reagan, sheriff’s spokesman. “That is just not the way it works.”

Confusion surrounding the issue of who can act as a guardian came to light after a Hard 7 column in The Spokesman-Review’s entertainment section this month.

Columnist Rebecca Mack explored the idea of hosting a post-prom party, and allowing the high school seniors to drink so long as their parents approved and were willing to let other parents act as guardians for the night. Some see that as a way to curb drinking and driving by “not hiding under the false perception that ‘my kids are not going to do it,’ ” in the words of Deputy Craig Chamberlain, who provided information to Mack for the May 2 column.

According to the 2002 Washington State Healthy Youth Survey, 43 percent of high school seniors admitted to consuming alcohol in the previous 30 days, and 30 percent reported binge drinking – consuming more than five drinks in a row.

“I think every parent struggles with this issue,” said Jane Joseph, whose youngest daughter is graduating from Lewis and Clark High School this year. She allowed her daughter to attend a post-prom party May 3 where alcohol was consumed. The host parents did not provide the liquor, but did allow it.

“I never would have let her had the parents not been there,” Joseph said.

In the recent newspaper column, Chamberlain told about a similar party he happened upon while working as a deputy in Okanogan County several years ago. In that case, Chamberlain found 40 or 50 seniors celebrating at a private home, with alcohol, along with five or six sets of parents. The teens had turned over their car keys so nobody could leave, and all the parents had given permission for their children to drink.

Chamberlain called the Okanogan County prosecutor that night and was told not much could be done if all the parents were in agreement. After being interviewed this month, he called the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office, to make sure nothing had changed.

“Basically I was told I made the right decision” in that case, Chamberlain said. “By no means was I trying to promote teenage drinking.”

But after Mack’s column was published, the sheriff sent out a press release indicating that the column was incorrect, and that he expected deputies to take action if they stumble upon such parties.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board says Knezovich is right.

State law does allow children to drink if their parents are present and they’re not in premises licensed by the liquor board, said Sheri Zanger, captain of the Spokane liquor control office.

But when it comes to parents allowing other adults to monitor their children’s drinking, officials say they cannot.

“The parent has to be the one providing it,” Zanger said.

Knezovich said the issue is not just about the law. By condoning alcohol use, parents are putting their children at risk of substance abuse problems later, he said.

Statistics show 40 percent of children who start drinking at age 14 or younger report having problems with chemical dependency, compared with 10 percent of those who wait until they turn 21, the legal drinking age.

“You don’t protect your child by allowing them to drink somewhere other than the road,” Reagan said. “If you provide alcohol to minors, we will arrest you within the limits of the law.”

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