Archive for Sunday, April 12, 2009

Parents combat underage drinking

Advocates seek better enforcement of social hosting law

Cups, beer bottles and boxes are strewn about the front porch of a house on the 1300 block of Ohio Street Saturday morning, April 11, 2009.

Cups, beer bottles and boxes are strewn about the front porch of a house on the 1300 block of Ohio Street Saturday morning, April 11, 2009.

April 12, 2009


Empty cups from a recent party litter grass and sidewalk on the 1200 block of Ohio Street Saturday morning,

Empty cups from a recent party litter grass and sidewalk on the 1200 block of Ohio Street Saturday morning,

Nancy Renfro, mother of a 16- and a 19-year-old, is in the trenches of navigating the world of teenage parties.

“I always call and say ‘This is Nancy Renfro and thanks for having my son over tonight.’ And, I can tell from the first response (if they know),” said Renfro, who administers a local blog geared toward providing information to parents about underage drinking.

Among Renfro’s biggest foes are parents who turn a blind eye when it comes to what their children are doing — and drinking — at home.

But Renfro and other parents’ arsenals of defense includes the state’s social hosting law, which hands out a minimum $1,000 fine and potentially one year in jail for anyone intentionally allowing a minor to drink alcohol on their property.

“It validates what parents should know is the right thing to do,” Renfro said.

Lawrence charges

Passed in 2004 after Lenexa teen Paul Riggs died in a car accident after attending a party where parents were home, the social hosting law was designed to hold parents’ behavior accountable.

In Lawrence, Renfro — and others — have said it’s a law that could use more teeth.

A review of Lawrence Municipal Court records show that since 2005, 24 charges have been filed for unlawful hosting of minors. Douglas County District Court has one case filed.

Of the 24 cases in municipal court, just one defendant pleaded guilty to the charge and two others were required to pay the full $1,000 fine. Three have been taken to trial and found not guilty. In at least half the instances, the cases had been diverted, dismissed or defendants pleaded to a lesser charge with the fines accompanying the cases ranging from nothing to a little more than $450.

“It is upsetting, and I think that as a community member and a parent, to me it sends the message: ‘Yes, we have this law, but it may not apply to everybody and that it is not important,’” said Jen Brinkerhoff, a director with Lawrence-based drug and alcohol counseling center DCCCA. “Enforcing underage drinking laws is very important. By enforcing laws and following through on them, it’s one strategy to reduce tragedies.”

Proving the case

In Lawrence, rarely are parents the targets of the social hosting law. In 75 percent of the cases, the ticket was cited at a residence within the Oread neighborhood, which surrounds Kansas University. And just as many were given out in late summer and early fall during the start of the school year. It’s around the same time that the courts see a rash of charges for minors in possession of alcohol and disturbing the peace.

Both City Prosecutor Jerry Little and Municipal Court Judge Randy McGrath said they don’t ever remember a parent coming to court under the charge.

Little, who works with defendants in resolving the cases, acknowledges the low rate of convictions. Part of the reason, he said, is lack of physical proof that the person hosting the party intentionally invited the minor to it.

In the three cases Little has taken to trial, this argument was offered: Just because someone was on the property and drinking alcohol wasn’t enough evidence that an invitation was issued.

“The judge came back and said there has got to be some other form of invitation, a letter or e-mail or poster or witness saying, ‘Yes, I was invited,’” he said.

The outcome of those cases doesn’t mean the city has given up.

“We are aware now of what kind of evidence we need, and the officers are aware of the evidence they need,” Little said.

McGrath, who presided over the trials, acknowledges at times it can be difficult to prove.

“You have to intentionally permit your residence to be used for that,” he said.

Statewide enforcement

Complaints about enforcing the social hosting law have surfaced across the state, said Keri Renner, director of communications for Kansas Family Partnership.

Police departments often don’t have enough manpower to break up teenage parties and can become frustrated when tickets are written and don’t get prosecuted.

“I think there is a lot of disparity throughout the state with this law,” she said.

In Johnson County, where the push for the law originated, most social hosting cases go through the district attorney’s office. The intention is to send a clear message to the offender.

“There was a decision that they wanted to take a hard stand on this,” said Karen Arnold-Burger, presiding judge for the city of Overland Park Municipal Court.

In the cases Arnold-Burger has seen, half have involved parents. All the cases have either ended in guilty pleas or diversions.

In her eight years in the Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office in Topeka, Karen Wittman prosecuted four or five cases under the social hosting law. One involved parents who threw their son an 18th birthday party with alcohol. When police broke up the party, they had to call an ambulance for one intoxicated minor. Both parents were charged, and their cases were diverted with required alcohol evaluations and fines as penalties.

Wittman, who is now a Kansas traffic safety resource prosecutor, said the outcome of cases depends on the police investigation and the judge’s interpretation of the law.

She has successfully prosecuted cases where a host had uninvited minors show up to the home with alcohol. In Wittman’s mind, the host is still responsible.

“It may not have started out that way, but once other steps occur, you allowed it to continue and you intentionally allowed it to go on,” she said.

Fine-tuning the law

A bill is currently on the governor’s desk that tweaks the language of the social hosting law so both those who intentionally or recklessly permit minors to drink alcohol would be ticketed.

The change would make the burden of proof for prosecutors much easier. Even if parents said they didn’t know their children were drinking, they still could be held responsible, Arnold-Burger said.

Renfro is supportive of the change. But in the meantime, she is working to get high school and junior high school parents to pledge to provide safe and alcohol-free homes. They can sign the pledge on the New Tradition Coalition’s blog at

“It’s always prime time for party season,” Renfro said. “The whole key is for parents to be in charge and ask all those questions, the who, what, when, where and how are you going to get around.”


christy kennedy 9 years, 2 months ago

Good work, and obviously much needed. Thanks.

Skeptic 9 years, 2 months ago

If the "whole key is for parents to be in charge" then stop using the legal system. We don't need more laws.

These types of "facilitation" laws have been widely misused and abused to support both neo-prohibitionist policies and to punish responsible parents for the times when they choose to allow their kids to drink under their supervision under the guise of "zero tolerance".

Bailey Perkins 9 years, 2 months ago

Do people fail to realize the more rules/laws they make, the greater chance teens/parents will work to brake them?

In Texas underage are allowed to drink as long as they are with their parents, but not in a strict state like this. Plus everyone expects the worst out of teens not realizing if you start young, you know what you are able to handle early on.

I'm 22 and would have gladly built a tolerance to alcohol before last year...

dandelion 9 years, 2 months ago

We aren't talking about parents who allow their kids to have a beer now and then. We are talking about the ones who throw keggers for all the kids. I knew a guy who was very proud of the fact that he allowed his kids and friends to have drunken blow outs at his house. He bragged that he was the most popular dad in town. Not respected for his maturity, just popular. All of his kids are grown now, fortunately only 1 developed a serious drinking problem that required rehab. Adults are suppose to be the ones who teach responsibility, not be the party buddy. By the way, this dad and his wife both have drinking problems; although they present this phoney religious front. They both drink like fishes, but I guess god forgives them for encouraging binge drinking and partaking in binge drinking. They don't go to bars, so it's ok.

purplesage 9 years, 2 months ago

One could wish that the stance was not merely against teen / underage drinking but against drinking. Teens are not the only ones affected by the use of alcohol as a beverage. For a high profile example, ask the family of Nick Adenhart, the promising rookie pitcher, and the other occupants of the car he was in when it was struck by a drunken driver.

Every bar that pours a drink, every store that sells a bottle or can, and every person who chooses to imbibe and all who support or say nothing are responsible for the ongoing tragedy of death and addiction caused by alcohol. It simply has no redeeming social value.

WHY 9 years, 2 months ago

I think underage drinkers are combating the parents and winning. Tell your kids you will give them a ride home anytime they need it no questions asked. Then don't ask questions. Parents should be allowed to let their own kids drink at home though other kids may pose a problem.

karkinrich 9 years, 2 months ago

Prohibition 2010!!!!! Woo-hoo, lets make Kansas a Dry State!!!!!!! No alcohol = No problems!!!!!! It worked the first time, lets do it AGAIN!!!!!!

gontek 9 years, 2 months ago

If it is dangerous, it should be illegal. Another vote for prohibition here! Lock them parents up for life if their kids drink, thats what I say, that will teach them to raise their kids according to my standards.

Steve Jacob 9 years, 2 months ago

While your at it parents, lock up your pain and sleeping meds that all of you are on. Easier for kids to get those then beer.

happilycaffienated 9 years, 2 months ago

I'm glad parents care and are trying to do the best possible thing, but when so many media sources show drinking to excess as fun and publicly drunk people as humorous rather than a reason to pause and think, I would caution parents who publicly declare they know best. Ever hear of the emporer who wasn't actually Wearing any clothes and had no one willing to tell him?

jhawkfan05 9 years, 2 months ago


BaxterC 9 years, 2 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

gontek 9 years, 2 months ago

We need to change the law to get liquor away from the people it might harm. I would propose that no person who has kids can buy alcohol. Raise the drinking age to 50 or 60. That way parents could not buy alcohol for their kids to get a hold of. Also, you should not have alcohol if you live next door to children or are a teacher of children, or if you ever see a child in your neighborhood. An by child I mean anywhere from 13 - 21 years old, someone who wants to drink alcohol. Take it away from them.

Also we should make it illegal for farmers to grow grains which could be turned into alcohol, like wheat, barley potatoes, corn, etc. These farmers are supplying their crops to the makers of alcohol. It should be illegal to make the alcohol and sell it in a store, or to make it in your own home through home brewing kits.

People are dying due to the use of alcohol so we must get together and figure out how to make this stop happening. Prohibition didn't work before, but it will work this time because we have the Patriot Act and the NSA and the FBI. We can find out who is breaking the laws now and throw them in jail. then we will be safe!

Vinny1 9 years, 2 months ago

Blaming the bars/liquor stores/etc. for drunk driving is just dumb. That blame falls on the driver and the driver alone.

Just a short time ago when the unfortunate accident with Jason Wren, the young KU student who died from alcohol poisoning died, everyone was on here bitching because the kid didn't know what he was getting into.

Well, how is anyone ever supposed to know what they are getting into with alcohol if the first time they experience it is at college. I grew up, away from Kansas where it is legal, where my parents were fine with me drinking underage as long as I was not driving and doing stupid stuff.

Does this make them irresponsible? No, not at all. They went through college, they knew what goes on here. They wanted me to experience being drunk while they could somewhat control it, instead of my first time being while I'm here, and not know my limits or how to handle being drunk.

My parents allowing this at home, helped me out and I don't get blackout drunk every night now.

The problem is not parents allowing a little drinking for their underage kids. I am in no way an extreme liberal or anything of that nature, but the problem here is the extremely conservative Kansas people.

woxy 9 years, 2 months ago

From the story:

Three have been taken to trail and found not guilty.

Shouldn't that be "taken to trial?"

Summerguuurl007 9 years, 2 months ago

Vinny1 posted: That blame falls on the driver and the driver alone.

No, personal responsibility goes out the window whenever Democrats are in charge. It's always someone else's fault and/or responsibility.

Jenni Allen 9 years, 2 months ago

no,responsibility go out the window whenever republicans are in charge

Jenni Allen 9 years, 2 months ago

children and teens are going to get booze at all costs, no matter of what they try to enforce, its not going to clean it up.Cause they will find a way to get it or sneak it, I should know been there, done that.

d_prowess 9 years, 2 months ago

Renfro said. “The whole key is for parents to be in charge and ask all those questions, the who, what, when, where and how are you going to get around.”

I get the desire to protect your child, but at some point does this attitude just push your kid away more and maybe even make them even more sneaky about things?

missmagoo 9 years, 2 months ago

12 April 2009 at 8:42 p.m.

Suggest removal

Permalink 2fat4u (Anonymous) says…

My kids all take ridalin. What's so bad about booze if their already taking skrips.

10 April 2009 at 12:46 p.m.

Suggest removal

Permalink 2fat4u (Anonymous) says…

Yes as a matter of fact I graduated from LHS with honors and distinctions. I also played basketball and ran track. But my kids are'nt old enough to go to school yet for another couple three years, and when they are I'll take care of them at home thanks. I don't trust all the pedophites and liberals in the Lawrence schools system. And also this guy they just put in as the principle is like the most hated in school history. But maybe when he's gone someday I'll think about letting my kids go there.

badger 9 years, 2 months ago

I think it's fine for parents to give their kids alcohol at home. My parents let me drink at home pretty much as long as I can remember. If there was wine on the dinner table, it was for everyone. If Dad had a beer or Mom had a rum and Coke, my sister and I were allowed to have sips, and by the time I was in high school the rule was, "If you want to have ONE drink, then you can, as long as you're not driving. No more than one, though." I never pushed the envelope, but I imagine that having more than one would have resulted in the loss of drinking privilege, and driving after drinking (whether I was legally impaired or not) would have resulted in the loss of access to the family car. I didn't press it because I knew I was being trusted and given a privilege I'd earned for responsibility.

I went off to college and skipped the binge drinking (I spent most of my time as designated driver), and still retain a pretty healthy attitude towards alcohol.

But what I can't tolerate is the parents who throw parties for other people's kids and provide alcohol so that they can be 'cool'. They tell themselves it's better for the kids to drink with adult supervision, but they don't have any right to make that choice for another person's child. Now, if the parents were friends and say having a barbecue together, and one parent said, "Your kid can have one of my beers if you allow it," and the other parent said, "Yeah, that's fine with me. Hey, Billy, Mr. Jones says it's all right if you have one of his beers," then that would be different. But this "I'm gonna be the party house for all my kid's friends" garbage needs to stop, and it needs to stop with heavy fines and criminal charges.

Danimal 9 years, 2 months ago

I have to agree with badger, the "all or none" attitudes Americans have towards booze foster destructive drinking habits and attitudes.

Summerguuurl007 9 years, 2 months ago

no,responsibility go out the window whenever republicans are in charge

Yes, I forgot. Republicans are advocates of nanny states such as California, New York, and New Jersey. Thanks for setting me straight! Muah!

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