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Thurston Co. approves new fine for underage party hosts

TUMWATER, Wash. - Thurston County is taking a new approach to discourage underage parties involving alcohol or drugs, and the idea is to go after the adults for offering up their home or apartment.

Supervised or not, house parties full of inebriated teenagers can trigger a lot of public health and safety concerns. Over the years, Thurston County has seen its share.

“It wasn't that there were lots of problems here and we decided that we needed to respond the problem,” said Meghan Sullivan, the executive director of the healthy youth advocacy group 'Together!'

“It's that the science tells us this is going to protect the most kids with the least cost," Sullivan said.

Sullivan helped draft an ordinance that makes it illegal to provide an environment where underage drinking takes place. It's already a crime to supply kids with alcohol or drugs. This new effort would make adults liable just for providing the space for parties to be held.

County commissioners voted unanimously to adopt it on Tuesday.

“(It will) give our children a better chance to grow up and become the prosperous, thriving adults they need to be," said Thurston Co. Commissioner Bud Blake.

The "social host" ordinance allows law enforcement to issue a $250 fine to any responsible adults, even if they only provide the home and not the alcohol or drugs.

“If you are a parent and you know or do not know that your teenager's having a party in the basement, and kids are consuming alcohol or marijuana, this could hold you responsible,” Sullivan said.

Supporters hope the civil penalty will reduce a recent uptick in traffic accidents related to marijuana and young people. They said the idea is not to collect new fees, but to get parents to share their expectations that kids not drink and use drugs.

The new ordinance only applies in unincorporated Thurston County and takes effect in 30 days.

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