Florida toughens law on underage house parties, but not in time for graduation

A Florida law passed that makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to allow underage drinking on the second offense. It remains a second-degree misdemeanor for the first offense.

Jail time for a second-degree misdemeanor is a maximum of 60 days. For a first-degree misdemeanor, it goes up to a year in jail. Fines increase from $500 for the lesser offense to $1,000 maximum for a first-degree misdemeanor.

— When it comes to alcohol and high school graduation, state and local officials are making it clear that it’s best to just keep a lid on it.

Some parents host graduation parties where alcohol is provided, thinking they can better protect teens by providing supervision and keeping them from driving drunk, Collier County sheriff’s spokeswoman Michelle Batten said.

However, it doesn’t work that way, said Collier County Medical Examiner Marta Coburn, who is among the leading partners in Drug Free Collier, which seeks to prevent alcohol and drug abuse in the area.

“A lot of parents have lowered the standard to ‘if you do you drink a little alcohol, do a little pot, it’s OK. Just do it here with your friends. Don’t get in a car,’” Coburn said. “That’s inconsistent. It needs to be zero tolerance. That sends a clear message.”

State lawmakers, including Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, and Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Rockledge, sought during the 2011 legislative session to toughen penalties on adults who allow underage drinking at house parties.

A bill passed that makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to allow underage drinking on the second offense. It remains a second-degree misdemeanor for the first offense.

Jail time for a second-degree misdemeanor is a maximum of 60 days. For a first-degree misdemeanor, it goes up to a year in jail. Fines increase from $500 for the lesser offense to $1,000 maximum for a first-degree misdemeanor.

The law was approved overwhelmingly.

State Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, was among those who voted for it.

“I don’t like government intrusion of people’s live,” Passidomo said.

This case was different, however, because the intent is to keep minors safe, she said, noting that stiffer penalties were severely needed.

“It is a greater crime to have an untagged alligator than to host an open house party (for kids),” she said.

State Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples

State Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples

Under the new Florida law, it’s also a first-degree misdemeanor for the adult if a minor’s consumption of alcohol or drugs at the party results in the serious injury or death of someone.

That’s the case at least until the new law takes effect, Passidomo said.

Stiffer penalties don’t go into effect until July 1. Nonetheless, law enforcement officials are hopeful it sends the message in time for this graduation season.

Violation of house party laws include having control of the residence, knowing kids are using alcohol or drugs and failing to take reasonable steps to prevent it.

Under the new Florida law, it’s also a first-degree misdemeanor for the adult if a minor’s consumption of alcohol or drugs at the party results in the serious injury or death of someone.

A second-degree misdemeanor is the charge a Fort Myers mother was slapped with when arrested in November on a charge of allowing minors to have alcohol at a house she rented for a party for her teen daughter on Fort Myers Beach.

Lisa Ellen Blasi, 49, was warned by Fort Myers police not to allow the party after they received a tip that it was planned. When police received another tip the night of the party, Lee County deputies arrived to find about 50 people inside in the vacation rental and several of them tossing cans of beer and throwing down red plastic cups.

Blasi told deputies she was sorry and tried to get the minors to leave, but they wouldn’t do so, according to Daily News reports.

Many such arrests in Collier and Lee counties in recent years didn’t lead to convictions, records show. There were 12 arrests for similar charges in Collier County in 2010 and 14 in Lee County with the vast majority leading to dropped charges.

It’s not just parents, of course, who provide alcohol to minors. Friends, siblings, other family members and strangers also have been known to provide the liquor.

“In general, kids use many resources such as fake IDs, older friends, paying other store patrons to buy alcohol for them, taking from their parents’ supply, and taking it from friends’ houses,” said Batten of the Collier Sheriff’s Office. “They don’t have much trouble getting the alcohol if they really want it.”

However, there is an alternative way to celebrate in Collier and it’s been increasing in popularity over the decades.

Project Graduation is an all-night event drawing about 1,500 graduating seniors from public and private schools and requiring about 350 volunteers to provide a place to celebrate graduation in a safe, alcohol- and drug-free environment.

Many house party arrests in Collier and Lee counties in recent years didn’t lead to convictions, records show. There were 12 arrests for similar charges in Collier County in 2010 and 14 in Lee County with the vast majority leading to dropped charges.

“It is truly a community-wide effort to keep our young people safe,” Naples YMCA of the Palms CEO Brandon Dowdy said.

It requires collaboration among parents, schools, businesses and organizations, including the Collier Sheriff’s Office and YMCA.

Upcoming graduates are looking forward to the celebration at the YMCA. Previous graduates also report enjoying it.

And parents of graduating seniors can feel a bit more secure knowing that since the program started in 1985 there has never been a graduation night fatality involving a Collier graduate, sheriff’s officials report.

There are some young people who say Project Graduation, which is Friday, graduation night, from approximately 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., is not for them, though most felt uncomfortable talking about underage drinking.

“Well, basically, I just think everyone has their own way of celebrating,” said Megan Connetta, 17, a Naples High senior who said she is planning to go to Project Graduation to celebrate.

Whether it’s the most popular choice doesn’t matter to many students, they said.

“It’s normal, but you don’t have (to drink),” said Alexis Williams, 17 of Lely High School, a junior who said she likely will to go to a house party without drinking herself even if others do drink.

Those who already have gone to the alcohol-free party said they enjoyed it.

“I thought (Project Graduation) was awesome because it’s not just people from your school,” said Giovanna Saunders, 19, a 2010 Naples High graduate who now attends Flagler College in St. Augustine.

“I know a lot of people didn’t want to go because,’’ she said, changing her voice, “‘it’s school approved’ or whatever.

“But I had a great time and thought it was a lot of fun,” Saunders said.

__ Staff writer Tauren Dyson contributed to this report.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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thefallofRome writes:

Thank you big brother, us sheep need help, we are lost without the goverments involvement in everything.

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