GENESEO – SUNY Geneseo and community leaders answered pressing questions from SUNY Geneseo students Tuesday night at a question and answer panel on the recently adopted Social Host Law designed to curb underage alcohol consumption at parties in the village.
The Social Host Law, Chapter 88 of the Village of Geneseo Code, available online here, has many students up in arms questioning its purpose and effectiveness, and accusing the village of using it as a tactic to raise money. Village and college officials say the law is simply intended to make the village a healthier and safer place.
“Overall, you could say that the purpose of the law is to improve the quality of life in the village as well as upholding state law, under which it is illegal to serve someone under the age of 21,” said Geneseo Mayor Richard Hatheway. “The fine is set high not as a fundraising effort for us but as a deterrent so that you will think about what you are doing.”
The panel met in Newton Hall on campus and consisted of SUNY Geneseo’s Dean of Students Dr. Leonard Sancilio, Geneseo Mayor Richard Hatheway, Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Program Coordinator Sarah Covell, Geneseo Police Chief Eric Osganian, Geneseo Village Justice Thomas Bushnell, and SUNY Geneseo’s attorney, John Lockhart.
Students did not speak at the panel. Members of the Student Association prepared 11 questions for the panel and submitted further questions electronically during the panel.
Under the law, police who find that people under age 21 are consuming alcohol at a party, defined here, can issue a ticket for a violation and a $250 fine to the person found to be in control of the party. A second violation means a $500 fine. For each offense, the offender must complete a court-approved alcohol and drug awareness program. As with a traffic ticket, a conviction for a violation is not a crime, and the law says that the defendant can either pay the fine or serve up to 15 days in jail. Justice Bushnell said that he has never heard of someone choosing the jail time over paying the fine.
Lockhart said that students should be more concerned about the repercussions of breaking the college code of conduct in the event of an alcohol violation than the penalties of the Social Host Law. He said that actually serving alcohol to a minor is a class A misdemeanor, a criminal offense that is more severe than a Social Host violation. He also reminded students that SUNY Geneseo can provide a lawyer free of charge to students who are arrested in the village.
Students asked in their prepared questions whether the passage of the law was linked to the loss of bars in the village with the closure of the Inn Between and Kelly’s Saloon.
“I would feel much more comfortable with people drinking at a bar rather than in a backyard somewhere,” said Osganian. “There may be an on-campus solution. Maybe the College would consider opening a bar on campus.”
Dr. Sancilio clarified that the social host law does not apply in residence halls, but University Police do write tickets under state law for serving alcohol to people under age 21.
SUNY Geneseo Vice President Robert Bonfiglio closed the panel by thanking the Student Association for making the event possible, and reminding students that they have the right to vote in the March 15 village election.
“This is obviously a complicated issue,” said Bonfiglio. “There is an upcoming election in the village and that is an opportunity to have your voice heard.”