Stanhope seeks to regulate alcohol consumption in homes

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:54

    STANHOPE - No one spoke when Mayor Diana Kuncken opened the floor to the public during the Aug. 30 borough meeting, but when the council voted 3-4 with Kuncken casting the deciding vote to adopt on first reading an ordinance to "prohibit the unauthorized possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages by under aged persons on private property," a voice from the audience was heard saying, "Welcome to America." The ordinance would allow police officers to enter a private residence to issue summonses to under aged drinkers and any adults present at the time. According to supporters of the measure, the ordinance does not interfere with parental rights but is aimed to curtail underage drinking parties, and it would be an important enforcement tool for the local police department. The law would not prohibit use of alcohol in connection with a religion observance, ceremony nor does it prohibit possession by one who is "engaged in the performance of employment." It also excludes those involved in the preparation of food while enrolled in a culinary arts or hotel management course. If adopted, the ordinance calls for fines of $250 for the first offense and $350 for any subsequent offense as well as the suspension or postponement of a juvenile's driver's license for up to six months. "What's important is the message from the borough, the message to the youth of the community that under aged drinking is not tolerated. It's dangerous, and that's why we have these laws in place," said Stanhope Police Chief Steve Pittigher, who attended the meeting to answer the council's questions. Councilman Brian Murphy, who supported the measure, said he understood citizens' apprehension but dismissed those concerns by explaining that the proposed regulation is constitutional. "I believe the concern is there might be a violation of our rights, and about what authority this is giving to the police department. But the things that protect us are the constitutions n the constitution of New Jersey and the constitution of the United States. No ordinance can infringe upon that." Stanhope is the latest municipality to look at giving police a wider latitude in combating under age drinking. Several other towns throughout Sussex County have adopted similar measures in part because of lobbying by the Newton-based group Coalition for healthy and Safe Families. "This vote was an introduction to an ordinance, and I would like to see it go to the meeting in September when there is a public hearing," said the mayor when contacted after the meeting. "I have in the past made comments about my concerns, and I still have those concerns, but I would like this taken to the next step. I would like to give the public an opportunity to speak." The proposed legislation is scheduled for public debate before the council makes its final decision on Sept. 27.