GENESEO – The locally controversial ‘Social Host Law’ that establishes fines and possible short-term imprisonment for people in control of the premises where drugs or alcohol are being distributed illegally has cleared with New York State and is now in full effect within the Village.
Geneseo Police Chief Eric Osganian said that with the closure of the Inn Between, the renovations at the Vital Spot and the loss of Kelly’s Saloon, the danger is that people, especially students, will be having more and bigger house parties where they are not cared for by a bartender.
“I will take a bar over a party in some field any day,” said Chief Osganian. “Some students are not happy that Social Host passed, but I can tell you when I was in school here, there were huge parties on Court Street that got way out of hand, and I really don’t want to go back to that.”
Chief Osganian said that the Idle Hour on Center Street and the Statesmen on Court street have been busier than ever in the past few weeks, and that the full student body of SUNY Geneseo has not been present for that time.
“The Idle Hour and the Statesmen have already seen and are predicted to see an increase in business, said Chief Osganian. “This coming weekend is the first weekend with the full SUNY Geneseo student body back in town.”
Social Host, Chapter 88 of Village of Geneseo Code, available online here, was passed by the Village of Geneseo Board of Trustees after a heated public hearing between the Village Board and students on April 20, 2015. It was designed to discourage serving drugs or alcohol illegally to underage people under age 21 by establishing penalties for those found to be responsible for the property on which the prohibited activity occurs.
Student David Lim, leader of the SUNY Geneseo chapter of the international student organization, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, asked if the law is technically in violation of state laws that protect anyone who calls 911 from drug charges in connection to the medical emergency.
“This does not grant you complete amnesty,” answered Chief Eric Osganian at the hearing. “Of course if someone is in trouble and you call the ambulance, you’re doing the right thing. 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 ten we will still have a problem.”
Penalties to the social host of a party are “any person who violates any provision of this chapter shall be guilty of a violation and shall, upon conviction thereof, be subject to a fine of $250, or imprisonment for a term not to exceed 15 days, or a combination of such fine and imprisonment as shall be ordered by the court. Each and every subsequent occurrence shall constitute a violation punishable by a fine of $500 or imprisonment of 15 days. In addition, for each offense, successful completion of a court-approved alcohol and drug awareness program is required.
‘Alcoholic beverages’ are defined as “any liquor, wine, beer, spirits, cider or other liquid or solid, patented or not, composed of or containing alcohol or spirits, whether or not brewed, fermented or distilled, and capable of being consumed by a person; except […] confectionary containing alcohol as provided in Section 12 of Section 200 of the Agriculture and Markets Law.”
Section 88-3 of the Social Host law says that “it is the purpose of this chapter to protect the public interest, welfare, health and safety within the Village of Geneseo by prohibiting the service to and consumption of alcoholic beverages and illegal drugs by persons under age of 21 at private residences located in the Village. The Village Board finds that the occurrence of social gatherings at private residences where alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs are served to or consumed by persons under the age of 21 is harmful to such persons themselves and a threat to public welfare, health and safety. The Village Board finds further that persons under the age of 21 often obtain alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs at such gatherings and that such service and/or consumption will be more likely to ensure that alcoholic beverages and illegal drugs are neither served to nor consumed by persons under the age of 21 at these gatherings.”
“We hope to never have to use this law,” added Chief Osganian. “It is a tool on our belt to keep the Village safer.”
Chief Osganian confirmed, as many local residents remember, that a young man was discovered deceased near the Wadsworth Library on Second Street within the past 10 years after visiting several house parties and apparently being allowed to leave alone.
“That was an ugly scene,” said Chief Osganian. “He was in town visiting friends and went to several house parties. He was heavily intoxicated and disoriented, and it was a cold night. He was knocking on doors with no idea where he was or where his friends were, and unfortunately did pass away.”