Town proposes social host law to curb underage drinking

The Town of Geneseo is considering a new piece of legislation that would charge those responsible for a property where underage people are intoxicated with a violation, carrying a $250 fine and up to 15 days in jail. This “Social Host” proposal is based off of an existing law in Steuben County. Similar laws are in place in other SUNY school communities, including Alfred, New York.

Village of Geneseo Police Chief Eric Osganian ’91 said that the potential ordinance would benefit the community as a whole and would hold more people accountable for illegal behavior.

“[With the current laws,] we have to connect the alcohol to whoever is providing the alcohol, and if you can’t make that connection, you can’t hold anybody accountable,” Osganian said. “This law is another tool where if you bring your own alcohol to a party, we can arrest the person who’s hosting the party.”

The Lamron reached out to Geneseo Town Supervisor William Wadsworth, but he was unavailable to comment.

Sigma Alpha Mu president junior Casey Larkin agrees that the law holds people accountable, but he said it prosecutes the wrong people.

“It holds somebody accountable, but is that person always guilty?” Larkin said.

Osganian noted that many community members had similar concerns.

“If they’re not in control of the premises, you’re not the one that’s going to be held accountable,” he said. “If mom and dad are away, they’re not getting arrested.”

Larkin applied the proposal specifically to a college atmosphere, however.

“If a person sits in his dorm and drinks himself into a tizzy, technically, he hosted himself drinking there,” he said. “Then they go to a house where they don’t have access to any alcohol, but just the fact that they’re there and they’re intoxicated means that the person that had no part in them getting drunk … [and] was simply having a social event at their house—it holds them accountable.”

Although Osganian added that punishments to the law have been interpreted as harsh, particularly serving 15 days in jail, he said the likelihood of that specific punishment is next to zero.

“It’s a violation, kind of like a loud noise complaint—there’s no criminal record with them,” he said. “You can get 15 days in jail on a speeding ticket. The chances of that happening are nil.”

The $250 fine for the first offense is the maximum allowed for any first offense violation. From there, the fines go up to $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for a third. Larkin expressed his belief that these fines are too hefty.

“How are [students] going to pay that?,” he said. “They’re finding somebody that they can pin on a wall, that they make an example of, that they can crucify and they can make some money off it.”

One of Larkin’s top concerns is that police officers will be able to “go into these parties knowing that, no matter what, they’re going to be able to issue fines.” This is because although it can be tough to track down who provided the alcohol, it is less difficult to find the party’s host.

After the Town Board goes through the ordinance in detail, it will go to a public hearing on April 20 for public input about the law. If the Village approves it, the law would still have to be approved on the state level in order to be enacted. According to Osganian, it could be a long process.

“The state process will take a long time for it to be approved,” he said. “Maybe next semester or the following spring.”