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Public hearings set for proposal designed to prevent underage drinking in Dawson County
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A proposed ordinance that would hold parents accountable if they allow their kids to host drinking parties with their friends is set to go before the public for discussion.

Public hearings are planned for June 18 and July 2 during the 6 p.m. meetings of the Dawson County Board of Commissioners.

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.

If approved, the Social Hosting Ordinance would hold parents accountable for letting minors drink alcoholic beverages at their homes.

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."