Madison (WQOW) -- Wisconsin law enforcement officials are turning to the state legislature for help to prohibit adults from hosting underage drinking parties, after a court ruling made 54 local government prohibitions unenforceable.
On October 26, 2016, the Wisconsin Appeals Court ruled a social hosting ordinance in Fond du Lac County could not apply to a high school graduation party at a home where adults allowed other people's underage children to drink alcohol, because it was not consistent with state law.
The court ruled state statute only prohibits adults allowing other people's underage children to drink at places they own that also require a license or permit to sell alcohol.
Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere) believes it is time to close that loophole statewide for a number of reasons.
"Underage access and involvement with alcohol leads to greater dependence, the younger the age of onset is with drinking," said Rep. Jacque. "And along with that, we've also found a very high propensity of people who drink underage admit to getting behind the wheel drunk."
A number of other Republicans and Democrats have signed on to Rep. Jacque's legislation, which would set a penalty of $500 for any adult who allows other people's underage kids to drink at their home while they are present.
There is an existing statute that prohibits adults from purchasing alcohol for someone underage to consume, but Rep. Jacque said that doesn't address the problem.
"What law enforcement will tell you is, in the absence of receipts and direct testimony - as to who exactly purchased the alcohol - it's very difficult to prove the case," said Rep. Jacque.
Experts at UW Law School's Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project say this is actually a crucial time for the state when it comes to underage drinking.
According to Project Coordinator Julia Sherman, Wisconsin had highest incidence of underage drinking in the country just one decade ago, but is now closer to the national average.
"You know, the first social host ordinance was adopted in 2009. I don't think it's the sole reason. There was a lot going on in the nation. But one thing we know for certain - when you reduce youth access to alcohol - underage drinking drops," said Sherman.
Passage of Rep. Jacque's bill isn't a sure thing.
He's introduced the same legislation in three previous sessions, only to see it stop short of Gov. Walker's desk each time.
But Rep. Jacque he feels the amount of bipartisan support and the Appeals Court ruling could be enough to finally get it passed.
"I do think it's something we'll be able to get over the hump this session," said Rep. Jacque, who hopes to get a hearing on the bill in May.
Both the Wisconsin League of Municipalities and the Wisconsin Medical Society also support the legislation.