City officials are considering a measure that will penalize young people for drinking on private property by fining them $500 for the first offense.
“It shall be unlawful for any person under the legal age to, without legal authority, knowingly possess or knowingly consume an alcoholic beverage on private property within the city of Paterson,” reads the ordinance.
The violation of the ordinance carried a fine of $1,000, but was later reduced by council members. “A thousand dollars could be a wakeup call,” said Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman, mentioning parents who exercise lax supervision over their children.
Tavarez said the fine seems excessive suggesting the reduced $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for subsequent offenses. “They should be responsible for their children. I just don’t want to bankrupt them,” he said.
Concurring with Tavarez, James Staton, 1st Ward councilman, said, “I have seen so many innocent get hurt financially, the max should be $500.” He said the fine will particularly hit struggling single parents.
“How old do I have to be to be subjected to this?” asked William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, picking up on the lack of age requirement in the ordinance. He said a nine-year-old could be easily fined under the ordinance which should be directed to child protective services.
Tavarez worried that the fines could lead on a dangerous road where parents fall into a ruinous cycle not dissimilar to Ferguson residents being slapped with municipal violations by surrounding towns.
He said warrants are issued when a violator is unable to pay. Once you fail to pay the fine a warrant is issued which gives authorities the power to incarcerate, said law director Domenick Stampone.
Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large, suggested community service for those who cannot come up with the money to pay the fine.
Stampone said there are many state laws that penalize property owners who allow underage drinking in the homes or elsewhere. He also said there are local laws that bar drinking in public places.
There are exceptions to the ordinances for religious ceremonies, rites, and educational institutions where an underage individual may handle alcohol.
The city council is set to take a precursory vote on the measure on May 26th, 2015.