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OH: Ohio might make it easier to charge adults who ‘allow’ underage drinking

OH: Ohio might make it easier to charge adults who ‘allow’ underage drinking

By Anna Staver, The Columbus Dispatch
February 28, 2022

Parents “who turn a blind eye” to underage drinking would be easier to prosecute if a bill proposed by two Ohio Republicans becomes law.

House Bill 418 would lower the legal threshold for charging the owner or occupant of a home or business with allowing underage drinking from knowingly to recklessly because it is “easier for a prosecutor to prove that a person acted recklessly.”

“With the knowingly standard, people are gaming the code,” state Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, said. “I may have let 10 teenagers into my basement, and I may have stocked the fridge downstairs with beer. I may have taken keys at the front door, but I didn’t know what they were doing down there. I didn’t know they were drinking.”

The bill, which is up for a committee hearing Thursday, wouldn’t create new crimes or enhance the current penalties for adults caught providing alcohol to underage persons. It also wouldn’t change the law allowing parents to serve alcohol to their own children.

“It changes only one word in Ohio Revised Code,” Rep. Adam Bird, R-New Richmond, said. 

But it’s an important word in Bird’s opinion. 

Underage drinking in the U.S. kills about 3,500 people and sends another 119,000 to the emergency room each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

“Sexual assaults are happening in these situations,” Bird said. “There are deadly accidents happening.”

The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association hasn’t decided whether to support HB 418. 

“Obviously, we don’t want parents or anyone else providing alcohol to people who are underage or hosting parties and turning a blind eye. That’s very dangerous,” OPAA Director Lou Tobin said. “But the question is whether the current statute enables that, and I don’t think it does. We think the case law largely already supports prosecutors ability to bring charges in these cases.”

Bird and Stewart, however, are convinced some Ohioans choose “intentional ignorance” when it comes to underage drinking because of the knowingly standard. 

“No parent wants to be put in a situation where they are taken to court for hosting a teen drinking party,” Bird said. “Hopefully, this will make them sit up and think just a little bit more.”