Council treads carefully on keg law

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday April 16, 2005

The Town Council adopted the prudent course in its response to the keg registration bill. The feeling was that, with or without Chapel Hill's encouragement, this bill was gaining traction elsewhere in the state. Thus, the town and its legislative delegation can best safeguard the privacy of consumers by adding strong language to that effect to Joe Hackney's and Verla Insko's House Bill 855.

A unanimous council was concerned about the need for keg purchasers to obtain a permit from the ABC board, the provision for criminal background checks, potential unintended consequences of requiring identification of where the keg would be consumed and the unnecessary intrusion into individual privacy from maintaining keg permits as public records.

Still, it was an odd process for Chapel Hill. Support for keg registration was proposed for a council legislative request by Jim Ward back in February. For most proposals, the town gets a report back from staff and receives citizen comment before taking action. Ward's timing pre-empted such input.

Sally Greene and Mark Kleinschmidt talked about constitutional issues, particularly those raised by an Ohio case in which a keg registration law asked purchasers to waive their Fourth Amendment rights.

Such concerns did not phase Ward. "If everybody behaved themselves," he said, "we wouldn't need this kind of oversight. I would be willing to give up a little bit of my anonymity in order to provide a greater level of safety... ."

While "oh, behave" may be an amusing admonition when coming from Austin Powers, politically it is expressive of one of the oldest traditions in America: the attempt to use state power to enforce a puritanical morality.

Ward has embraced the program of Dale Pratt-Wilson who has been actively promoting a police enforcement approach to teen drinking. Pratt-Wilson is outspoken in her quest to overturn "community norms" that diminish the police's likelihood of charging teenagers for violating alcohol laws.

But police were unable to stop adult drinking under nationwide prohibition in the 1920s. All they did was create a new criminal class and a booming business for speakeasies. Similarly, today's "war" on drugs has filled our expanding prisons with non-violent offenders and hamstrung any possibility of a serious discussion of drug abuse as a public health problem.

Chapel Hillians understand that a "war" on teen drinking will be no more effective than the war on drugs, that there is only so much that police involvement can achieve.

During the initial council discussion, Dorothy Verkerk pointed out that "a lot of it needs to be laid on the doorsteps of parents. I plan, for the next 10 years, to be at home on Friday nights. That's just what I have to do."

And parental responsibility is at the heart of the community's response to this concern.

A Chapel Hill High School task force titled its report "Parent Power: Prevent Substance Abuse Before It Starts."

But despite parental and community efforts, children can and do obtain alcohol. Some have problems with drinking. Some get hurt. Sometimes someone dies.

So, naturally, many people are concerned about teen drinking and are anxious for a solution. Unfortunately, such anxiety can often lead to a quest for an easy solution, not necessarily the most effective one.

That appears to be the case with keg registration. So far we have heard no evidence that there is a significant problem with Chapel Hill schoolchildren drinking from kegs. Nor have we heard how registration will tangibly help teenagers or their parents.

Melanie See's story is fairly typical of the reactions of actual teenagers to the prospect of keg regulation.

"I asked my high school junior how prevalent kegs were at parties," See wrote. "He just laughed. He says kids have more luck convincing older siblings/friends to buy cases of beer, or stealing from their parent's liquor cabinets. He knew of one party [which he hadn't attended] where the dad had purchased a keg -- and the dad got arrested for contributing to the delinquency of minors."

Keg registration promises to be a huge hassle for consumers and retailers.

Its most likely impact will be to drive down keg sales and drive up the sales of beer cases and other spirits. As Mark Kleinschmidt commented, "You might as well pick up the bottle of Everclear [grain alcohol], if you have to go back and forth to the ABC store."

And it threatens to give Big Brother another window into our private activities.

Cam Hill, who has two teenage children, offered a simple solution: "Just label the keg and let it go. That's all I want in the law. The rest of that stuff is unnecessary." That sounds right in line with the community norm for Chapel Hill.



Finding a keg party without keg registration. That could be tough. Would they be allowed to use all their senses, or would they have to rely on touch alone?

I guess I still don't see the point of this legislation, unless it is to keep people from stealing the empty kegs. It sure isn't going to stop underage drinking or college parties. Only parents and the community can stop underage drinking. On the other hand, it does sound like yet another attempt to pry into our social lives.

This morning's newspaper reported on some parents arrested for underage drinking going on at their home. I don't know the particulars of the case and don't want to "prejudge" anyone, but I do think that holding parents accountable for what goes on in their home is an appropriate place to start and probably more effective than registering kegs.

The story said the kids were drinking for cans. Not a keg. The police were able to bust an under age "can" party without can registration. Do you suppose they could bust keg parties without keg registration?

You'll take my kegs when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.

Unless, you know, I had to put a deposit down on them or something.

I'm missing something here. Are keg registrations supposed to stop kids from drinking? Because if that is the idea, then it is a bad idea. Won't work. Dan is right.

Is the idea to stop people from stealing kegs, as is suggested by Lex's comment? In that case, do what PA did when I was a youngster, charge a $50 or $100 deposit.

Dan wrote: "So far we have heard no evidence that there is a significant problem with Chapel Hill schoolchildren drinking from kegs. "

You're right Dan. There is remarkably little hard data on either side of this issue. Clearly parents and the schools *think* there is a problem or we wouldn't have the Pratt-Wilson parents group or the high school task force. On the Good News on the Beer Front, I provided national statistics. On 8 separate threads on OP, the issue of teenage drinking has been mentioned (or featured). So there is some evidence that the problem exists and that some are concerned. If your contention is that there isn't a problem, shouldn't you provide evidence to support your argument?

I've said before that I don't know that keg registration is a good solution or not, and I applaud Salley Greene and Mark K for their concern on privacy rights. As lawyers and council members, they should be fulfilling that role. But legalities aren't the only issues here. I wish the Herald-Sun has chosen to take a more proactive investigative approach to the issue of teenage drinking. What are the costs to the families, the kids themselves and our community? What are other communities doing to address the problem? How is keg registration working in other communities?

Or was Dan suggesting that teens are drinking from bottles, not kegs?

If they're drinking from kegs we're really in trouble aren't we? They should at least be using cups.

Drinking from the keg is healthier. First you get the exercise from lifting the keg. Second if you get too drunk you can no longer lift it.
While we are talking about registering kegs, folks at the News and Observer forum are talking about getting beer with over 6% alcohol in NC. Talk about different takes on law and on beer!

The higher content beer issue should not be an issue. Wine and liquor have much higher levels of alcohol, but they are still sold. The reason behind the lower limit, as I understand it, is to keep "workers" from getting too drunk and not showing up at the mill Monday morning. Since we have few mills left and we are beyond allowing the barons to make up our laws, we should allow all types of beer in the state.

It's easy to surmise that the law to remove the 6% cap on beer is all about getting drunk, but that is not at all the case. The cap prevents many varieties of specialty beer from being made or sold in NC. In fact, about a third of the beer styles available in the world are illegal in NC. These beers tend to be very expensive.

This change will not lead to cheap high-alcohol beers being sold. There are only 6 states with a 6% limit. No major brewery makes anything like a beer version of Thunderbird in the other 44 states, so I don't think they'll start with NC.

This law is for lovers of fine beer, and supports your local microbrewery. You can check out for more information.

What exactly is the problem that is supposed to be addressed by the keg registration proposal? I had always assumed it had to do with college students' parties and older townies' opposition to such... but now we're talking about high schoolers?

Just a citation note--shouldn't one cite where a quote is from? Such as---
"Melanie See's story is fairly typical of the reactions of actual teenagers to the prospect of keg regulation.

"I asked my high school junior how prevalent kegs were at parties," See wrote. "He just laughed. He says kids have more luck convincing older siblings/friends to buy cases of beer, or stealing from their parent's liquor cabinets. He knew of one party [which he hadn't attended] where the dad had purchased a keg – and the dad got arrested for contributing to the delinquency of minors."

first appeared in thread on teen drinking on on--whatever date it appeared on?

Just form a JOURNALISTIC standpoint? Or don't those rules apply to Op-Ed pieces? Just curious--I've gotten several of phone calls (OK--two) from friends the last few days asking when Dan "interviewed" me.

Just throwin' it out there. I really DON'T know how "the rules" apply in journalism. I DO know how they applied in academe 25 years ago--and one was supposed to site ones sources--even if it were a conversation.

melanie/beating that dead horse

Melanie is correct that journalistic writing is very different from academic writing; opinion writing even more so.

I try to cite sources but some times have to leave them out because of the tight word limits on my column. Often, the Herald editors remove citations, I believe also for space reasons.

I agree with Melanie that, in her case, I should have included the source.

When transferring a piece over from the Herald to the blog you could easily insert Hyperlinks on key words.

Actually--it was transferring the quote from the BLOG to the HERALD that caused the confusion.

But life is good! ANd The Boy wasn't even annoyed.


Teen drinking is quite troubling but is criminalizing stupid, childish behavior going to help?

From the May 6th HeraldSun article:

In the past six months, police have arrested 34 people for underage possession of alcohol, but only eight of those persons were under the age of 19.

Pratt-Wilson noted that most of those who were charged were college-aged. She said she was curious to know if any of the people charged were 15, 16, 17 or 18.

"I'm interested to see how it breaks down," she said.

Generally, Pratt-Wilson said she was pleased with the efforts the town and the police department have made in trying to curb teen drinking. "I think that all of these things are steps in the right direction," she said. "I do think that there are some initiatives that we could work on with law enforcement regarding looking at ways to reduce underage drinking," she said.

Her committee seems to be on the right track by involving treatment professionals, and not overburdening its membership with law enforcement, but her recent comments seem to indicate she's pushing for a more punitive regime.

Ms. Pratt-Wilson has a lot of righteous indignation

But Pratt-Wilson said parents who take a hands-off approach to their teenagers "really have to be brought to their knees."

and based on her self-proclaimed
she's willing to fight however she can this local scourge, but I wonder if saddling a 13 or 14 year old with a court record, possibly forcing them into the juvenile system, is the best course of action?

I wonder if the term "hands-off approach" is hers. That covers a lot of territory, from parents who feel their children have earned the right to be trusted to make the right decision, to those parents who don't care if their children make the wrong decision. Either way, making criminals of the kids is not the answer.

I suppose the reason for this law is to make accountable those adults who would buy a keg, then allow teens to drink from it. How much does this happen in Chapel Hill, especially involving high schoolers? I've never heard even anticdotal evidence from the police or DA about this.

I thought this idea had disappeared but apparently it's still alive and moving forward. It's nice to know that with a very limited summer staff, the DTH is still keeping track of local events.

Keg bill is a start, locals say

Brewing Up Trouble (editorial)



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