Ascension bans parties where minors drink alcoholic beverages

The Ascension Parish Council voted on Thursday to outlaw the practice of parents hosting parties where youths under the age of 21 are allowed to consume alcohol.

Looking ahead to the upcoming graduation season, Sheriff Jeff Wiley urged the council to adopt an ordinance that targets adults who host large parties where youths will be drinking alcohol.

The ordinance, approved unanimously by the council, prevents minors from drinking alcohol on private property unless they are in the presence of a legal guardian, parent, grandparent or “someone over 30 years of age with whom the underage person has established a significant relationship by blood, adoption or infirmity.”

State law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing alcohol, but there is a provision that allows them to drink alcohol if done in the company of a parent or guardian, or in private residences.

Revised Statute 14:93.10, which outlines the definitions for the unlawful sale, purchase and possession of alcoholic beverages, provides the exceptions of public alcohol possession.

Wiley, who asked the council to look into the issue, and several of his top administrators spoke to the council on Thursday about the problems they are facing with curbing underage drinking, particularly at private parties.

Wiley said the Sheriff’s Office responds to several incidents per year in which a parent hosts a party, typically around graduation season, with numerous minors consuming alcohol. He said the new ordinance is not meant to prevent a minor from consuming alcohol at home in the presence of a parent.

“What this is about is not a family, not a family and extended family that’s having a nice celebration, and the 17-year-old son or daughter having a sip of wine or half a beer in a glass,” Wiley said. “… This is about parties. This is about 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds, about school-age kids who go to parties and knucklehead parents who think the best way to be a parent is be a friend to your child.”

Wiley said the excuse he hears from many adults is that they know the minors will be drinking, and they should do it in a safe environment.

The sheriff said that’s not a valid excuse, while Councilman Daniel “Doc” Saterlee said the argument “doesn’t hold water.”

Under the new ordinance, Wiley said, the minor found drinking an alcoholic beverage would receive a misdemeanor citation for underage possession of alcohol, while the adult in charge would be arrested on a misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

While sheriff’s officials are hoping to prevent major parties where minors can drink and then leave, possibly endangering the public, the ordinance mostly targets the adults who allow the drinking to happen.

“The target, frankly, is the adult who is sanctioning, hosting and many times, facilitating” the parties, he said.

It’s a move that appears to be the first of its kind in Louisiana. Officials with the state Attorney General’s Office and Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control said they were unaware of any other agency or public body enacting a similar law.

Jessica Starns, an attorney with the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, expressed concern over whether the ordinance would hold up in court, as did several Ascension Parish Council members.

“It seems contradictory to state law,” Starns said, adding she was hesitant to give her personal opinion on the issue.

She said local governments are allowed to make stricter regulations than state law when they concern public safety, health and welfare, but she was not certain Ascension’s new alcohol ordinance would fit under that definition.

Ascension Parish Attorney O’Neil Parenton said he crafted the ordinance at the request of the council and Sheriff’s Office, and he initially had some questions about the ability to enforce the ordinance.

“They say it’s an enforceable issue,” Parenton said. “We talked about that, and they think they can enforce it.”

Wiley isn’t concerned about any legal challenges. He said he addressed the issue with officials from the 23rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office and they were on board with the ordinance.

“I don’t know if this is something we’ll have to use much,” Wiley said. “I think maybe the presence of it and the application of it once or twice will be enough.”