Press "Enter" to skip to content

SB 163: If Kids Are Drinking and You Know It, Go To Court

Last updated on 2014.02.14

The South Dakota Senate Tuesday voted to make it just a little bit harder for parents to escape culpability when their underage kids crack open a case of Keystone with their buddies on the back forty or host a kegger at the lake house.

SB 163 prohibits social hosts from knowingly permitting underage consumption of alcohol on the host's premises and makes any violation a Class 1 or Class 2 misdemeanor (depending on whether the underage consumer is under 18 or between 18 and the legal drinking age of 21). After an unsuccessful attempt with a similar bill last session, a revamped bill from prime sponsor Sen. Larry Lucas (D-Mission) passed the Senate 27-7.

The key difference between last year's failure and this year's passage is the addition of the word "knowingly." Social hosts would, under SB 163, only be held responsible for failing to stop underage drinking they actually know to be going on (taking "appropriate and effective" action to stop illegal drinking defends a social host against prosecution). Previously proposed wording would have held hosts responsible for anything they knew, "or should have known."

That distinction was good enough for Sen. Larry Rhoden (R-Union Center):

"There was broad testimony by a number of key organizations ... and I am satisfied that this is a sound piece of legislation and they've done their homework and they've covered their bases, and I'd urge your support."[Larry Rhoden, Senate floor speech, 2014.02.11, available on SDPB Statehouse Archive, timestamp 1:16:00]

South Dakota Public Broadcasting, which deserves overall kudos for its exhaustive Statehouse coverage, gets this one wrong when Nate Wek's online post labels SB 163 as an effort at "Protecting Property Owners From Underage Drinking." Though there is indeed more protection in 2014's SB 163 than in previous proposals, this bill would hold social hosts more accountable for underage drinking than does current state law. Social hosts only violate current law if they themselves provide the alcohol to the underage revelers. SB 163 creates consequences, albeit relatively minor ones, for property owners if they know underage drinking is happening on their property and don't do anything to stop it.

Sen. Craig Tieszen (R-Rapid City) points out how simple and reasonable such consequences are for adults who should know better:

"It is wrong for us, any of us as adults, to furnish alcohol to minors, to promote underage drinking. It's just as wrong for us to host underage drinking and allow that to knowingly take place." [Craig Tieszen, Senate floor speech, 2014.02.11, available on SDPB Statehouse Archive, timestamp 1:13:20]

I do have some concern that focusing so closely on what hosts "knowingly" allow to happen might deepen the existing culture of plausible deniability when it comes to parents and underage drinking. ("Party? What party? My son/daughter didn't tell me they were hosting a party!"; "Yes, Officer, I knew that the kids were getting together while we were out of town, but I am shocked ... shocked, I say! ... that there was drinking going on.") One reaction to the proposed law might be for hosts to ask fewer questions—to limit what they "know"—rather than take the sort of more active interest that might prevent a dangerous drinking situation from happening.

However, it is also important to ensure that property owners who are truly unaware of illegal behavior are protected from legal punishment for actions that are completely outside their realm of responsibility. If one of the underlying goals of SB 163 is to stop South Dakotans from flouting a legal drinking age that many consider arbitrary, it's important that the social host statute itself not seem arbitrary.

SB 163 shouldn't be the sole reason that parents and land/homeowners take an active interest in what happens at gatherings on their property. But it's a reasonable step toward encouraging social hosts to think twice about enabling illegal activity and to take action to stop it when they know it's going on.


  1. mike from iowa 2014.02.14

    All well and good,however,aren't parents in SoDak responsible/liable if their minor children go on a vandalism streak and break windows,mirrors,etc. even if the parents have no prior knowledge? Don't Mommy and/or Daddy face criminal charges if Junior skips school? Hopefully,
    someone with knowledge of codified law can answer. Happy Valentines Day Madville Mob,or most of you anyway!

  2. rollin potter 2014.02.14

    Hey Lucas, Do you not think FAITH and FORGIVENESS is not enough of a penalty for these people like you think FAITH and FORGIVENESS is enough of a penalty for these
    stallions raping these young students???!!!!!

Comments are closed.