County commissioners are considering a proposed ordinance that, if approved, would hold parents accountable if they allow their kids to host drinking parties with their friends.
While there have been discussions that some believe enforcing the ordinance would infringe on private property rights, no one spoke in opposition during the first of two required public hearings June 18.
A group of supporters of the ordinance were present at the meeting.
Teri Lynn Reed, a local mother of three, is on the community committee helping to push the initiative.
"As a parent, I feel like this is a basic step in helping us protect our children from people who may make decisions that would make decisions different than I would as a parent," she said. "There's a lot about kids making their own choices...but 21 is the legal age to drink. Everybody knows it. It is my responsibility as a parent to have my children understand and respect that law."
If approved, the Social Hosting Ordinance would hold parents accountable for letting minors drink alcoholic beverages at their homes.
"I certainly don't appreciate when other parents allow it to happen at their homes, provide a place, provide the alcohol," Reed said. "This ordinance is just a good, basic step and a coverage to help me as a parent to have another thing to talk to other parents about and to talk to other school officials and other people in our community to let them know that Dawson County cares about our kids.
"I hope that this is something we can move forward with."
Representatives with Dawson County Family Connection requested that the board consider the matter.
"Adults who supply alcohol to youth or knowingly allow underage drinking need to be held accountable," said Tiffany Davis, coordinator for the organization's Be the Key Campaign, which focuses on underage drinking prevention.
Proposed fines are up to $1,000 and 20 hours of community service for the first offense.
"According to the Georgia Student Health Survey, students know that underage drinking is harmful, yet many continue to drink alcohol. This is why parents are such an important factor in reducing underage drinking," Davis said.
There are current laws in place that allow officers to charge underage individuals with possession or consumption of alcohol.
"However, as long as the adults are not directly providing, they have no liability for the minors drinking in their home, even if they know the drinking is happening," Davis said.
The proposed ordinance would address that concern.
"Adults who supply alcohol to youth or knowingly allow underage drinking need to be held accountable," she said.
Sheriff Billy Carlisle said he supports the measure.
"Teenagers, they're young and they think they're bulletproof. But in my career, I have loaded kids in ambulances because of alcohol poisoning when they drink too much. It can kill you, and that's what we're trying to get across to them," he said. "It's going to take all of us, everybody in the county to deter these alcohol issues with the teenagers."
The proposed ordinance would not apply to parents that allow their own children to drink alcoholic beverages.
"State law says an adult can give their children alcohol in their own home, but you can't give it to someone else's kids," he said. "What this is doing is asking the adults not to provide alcohol to underage people or provide a location for them to come and have their underage drinking parties."
The ordinance also would not prevent adults from having parties and having alcoholic beverages at those parties.
"I think what we need to get out to the people of the county is that it's not an ordinance to prevent adults from having a party or gathering for adults at their home," Carlisle said. "It's also not saying that you can't have alcohol at your home. What we've run into is ... parties where adults have allowed teenagers to come to their house for alcohol parties, and there's really nothing we can do about it.
"But under that ordinance, the person that owns that property could be held liable and charged in magistrate court and it's up to $1,000 and community service."
A second hearing is scheduled during the board's 6 p.m. meeting on July 2.