Zablonski: Social host law may discourage students from seeking help

In a unanimous vote, the Village Board of Geneseo passed the Social Host Law on April 20. This law has—understandably—dismayed many college students. The law levies fines of up to $500 and possible jail time for anyone who hosts a party where alcohol or illegal drugs are given to a minor.

Though the law may be considered a valiant attempt to curb unlawful and dangerous activity by some, in actuality this law does the exact opposite. The law will likely make an extremely difficult—yet life-threatening—choice even tougher: the choice to call 911 if an underage friend becomes ill from alcohol or other illegal substances. If someone’s life is in danger, calling for help is always the proper choice regardless of potential legal ramifications. This choice, however, may not be as easy to make while one is panicked or inebriated. To pass a law that makes this decision even tougher is counterproductive to its goal and inherently shameful.

Previously, one would be protected from possession of alcohol or drug charges if 911 had to be called for a medical emergency—but now this policy is effectively gone. “This [law] does not grant you complete amnesty. Of course if someone is in trouble and you call the ambulance, you’re doing the right thing,” Geneseo Police Chief Eric Osganian said while speaking to the Genesee Sun. “We will work with you to get a feel for the situation. If there is one underage person at your party that is one thing, but if there are 10 we will still have a problem.”

In other words, if several minors are drinking at a party and one becomes dangerously ill, partygoers will now be even more wary to call for help, as they will not be completely protected from liability.

The law also states, “Such person must take reasonable corrective action to ensure that the possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs by any minor on such premises is prohibited.” This means that if a host checks everyone’s driver’s licenses or marks minors’ hands with a marker, he or she will not be charged. This fails to explain, however, who would be held responsible should a drinking-age partygoer give minors alcohol without the permission or knowledge of the host. Who will decide how “reasonable” a host’s actions were in preventing underage drinking? What is to stop the host from being punished for another partygoer’s unverifiable actions?

Geneseo Mayor Richard Hatheway addressed the concerns voiced by several college students at a hearing. “I think they were not necessarily on target in that they got off on too many ‘what ifs’ and worrying about some inebriated person showing up at their house,” he said.

While “what if” questions can be inappropriate and distracting—especially at a public hearing—I believe that they are extremely relevant in a discussion about a law with potentially life-threatening consequences. Without answers to these questions now, students will be hesitant to call an ambulance for an ill, underage friend in a time of need.

To act dismissively toward students who genuinely want to know what the law entails is to act dismissively toward the wellbeing of every student at Geneseo.