City officials adopted a new ordinance that will fine juveniles who drink alcohol on private property as much as $500, fixing what one councilman described as a loophole in the law. The new law also allows for community service in place of the $500 penalty.
The original law targeting underage drinking in homes and house parties set the fine at $1,000, but that was amended and reduced to $500 on Tuesday evening.
“The thousand dollars is a little bit too high,” said Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman. Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman, also thought the fine was excessive.
Tavarez suggested a reduced fine and an added community service component to the ordinance. He said city families cannot afford to pay even $500. In such cases, he said, a judge can determine, based on family income, whether to impose a $500 fine or 40 hours of community service.
“I think it dilutes the ordinance,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, about the reduced fine. “One thousand dollars becomes a problem when you violate the law, so if you don’t want it to become a problem, don’t violate the law.”
Morris said financial burden serves a deterrent when an individual is contemplating to break the law.
Council members amended the ordinance to reduce the fine to $500 and added a 40-hour community service option.
“It’s going to bring a lot of hardship to a lot of families,” added Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, as she voted against the measure. She was joined by Morris and James Staton, 1st Ward councilman.
“Clearly, a message needs to be sent and the police department needs a provision to be able to address underage drinking which seems to be a hole in the law,” said William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, as he cast in favor. He said the community service piece will allow young people to visit the emergency room, the police department, and the morgues to observe the impact of drunk driving.
The measure, a concentrated effort to tackle underage drinking, was approved in a 7-3 vote.
“It’s not just one thing we’re trying to do,” she said. She said more than “It’s a part of the puzzle,” said Tenee Joyner, program coordinator for the Paterson Municipal Alliance Prevention Program.
Joyner said the prevention program has been educating young people through workshops in John F. Kennedy High School and International High School about drunk driving. The prevention effort also included a training session last month for liquor establishment employees. 34 people from 27 liquor businesses received training on how not to sell to underage individuals.
Joyner said Passaic City and Paterson are the only two Passaic County municipalities without this law in the books.
“It’s still a very high fine,” said Tavarez, the final vote in favor of the ordinance. He cautioned city officials of potential consequences, like warrants chasing after young people as they are unable to pay the imposed fines.
Tavarez mentioned Ferguson, Missouri, where lives were ruined, following unjust ticketing practices, that resulted in arrests and jail time for those who could not pay.
“They may make mistakes,” said Tavarez, of city youths. “Let’s make sure they learn from their mistakes, but we don’t want to ruin their lives.”