Law on underage drinking punishes wrong people

Law on underage drinking punishes wrong people

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xThe hearts of the Mercer Island City Council members are in the right place, but they've misplaced their brains.

In an effort to combat youth drinking, the Council decided to fine parents $250 if underage drinking occurs in their home. OK, that's not such a bad idea. It is already illegal for adults to provide alcohol to minors or for parents to let underage kids drink.

Where the new ordinance becomes impossible to swallow is in a provision that makes parents responsible regardless of their involvement or culpability.

"What makes this different is that the parents don't have to have any knowledge of wrongdoing to be held accountable," City Council member Mike Cero told The Seattle Times. "They could be in Timbuktu (and) have no knowledge of alcohol being consumed."

Cero said this is justifiable because concerns about underage drinking outweigh the possible infringement on personal liberties.

No, they don't. The idea that the ends justify the means has been discredited so many times you shouldn't have to remind people of it.

One of the tenets of our legal system is to treat people fairly while holding them responsible for the things they do. It is certainly not fair to punish someone for the actions of someone else.

There are youths who once they reach their mid-teens are more than two parents can handle, much less a single parent who is being pulled in several directions at once.

How is it right to punish parents who have put all alcohol behind lock and key or who have prohibited alcohol in their homes only to have their teenager open the house to friends bearing beverages while the parents are at work or somewhere else?

Under this law it makes no difference what efforts the parents have made.

The overriding intent of the ordinance -- to cut down on underage drinking -- is noble and worth working for. But punishing people who didn't do anything wrong while giving the actual law-breakers (the underage drinkers) a free pass is holding the wrong people accountable. What is that teaching kids?

Maryellen Johnson, who has children in middle and elementary school on Mercer Island, supports the Council.

"If you were out of the country and something happened and you got held responsible, I bet it wouldn't ever happen again," she told The Times.

Johnson had best hope her children don't grow into the rebellious streak so many parents with teenagers have endured. Under her reasoning, parents not only would never leave the country, but they would never leave their child's side because something might happen.

The Council should revise the ordinance and define common-sense steps parents should take to avoid underage drinking in their homes. Unless parents somehow facilitate the drinking they should not be punished for the actions of their children or others who may happen to be in the home.

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