By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — City leaders this week will consider a change to Wausau’s ‘social hosting’ ordinance, a move prompted by a Fond du Lac court case.
Wausau’s current ordinance, which fined parents and other adults between $1,000 and $5,000 for allowing underage drinking on premises they own or control, has quietly been on hold since a 2016 appeals court ruling.
According to court documents, Stuart Muche was cited in 2015 after holding his son’s high school graduation party at his Fond du Lac County home. Alcoholic beverages were consumed at the party, but Muche denied that he held an “underage drinking party.”
Muche fought the citation and won. An appeals court found that Fond du Lac’s social host ordinance did not comply with state law because of the language of the ordinance. In addition, the court found that Fond du Lac County’s penalties — the same as Wausau’s — were too high because they exceeded the amount allowed by state law.
The court case caught the eye of municipalities statewide, including in Wausau, where police stopped issuing citations for such incidents. At that time, state law prohibited adults from serving alcohol to people younger than 21 on their property. But that language has been interpreted by the Supreme Court has to mean specifically licensed premises with liquor licenses, not homes.
But Gov. Scott Walker on Dec. 8 signed a bill closing that loophole, paving the way for a newly-worded ordinance in municipalities around the state.
Members of Wausau’s public health and safety committee this week will consider the new ordinance, which clearly defines the rules and lowers the fine to $500 for first-time offenders. The fine would increase to $1,000 for people who violate the ordinance twice or more in a 30-month span, according to city documents.