By Kelley Lane for Seward City News –
The darkness of winter is quickly transitioning to longer daylight hours, and slowly Seward is melting out from underneath the three feet of snow that dumped recently. As the season changes, many companies and individuals are beginning their preparations for the summer season. One of the ways that companies prepare for summer is by hiring their summer staff, people who will pour into town mid-April through mid-May, swelling the size of Seward to its summer population. Our seasonal businesses swell with employees of all ages, particularly young people. Our local high school students acquire summer jobs, often more than one job, in which they get to learn skills and interact with people from other states and countries.
Katie Cornwell at Seward Prevention Coalition (SPC) is seeking to educate us in Seward on changes to minors consuming alcohol (MPC) laws. Their goal is to amend any perception around town that underage drinking is a normal part of life, a right of passage. They want to share, in positive ways, the facts that local survey data show about the prevalence of alcohol use among teenagers, which is surprisingly low. In response to this new State Law, SPC will be doing education at Seward High School and around town this spring. They want to help people understand the importance of the changes, which will likely mean greater enforcement going forward.
Last year the Alaska State Legislature debated and ultimately passed Senate Bill 165, put forth by Senator Micciche, an update to the alcohol laws, in particular relating to how minors consuming alcohol are legally treated. In the past, minors caught with alcohol were subject to misdemeanor charges and revocation of their driving privileges. This approach had the unintended consequence of clogging the court system, and thus MCAs were treated differently depending on each legal jurisdiction’s discretion. Many MCAs were dismissed, thus potentially undermining the perceived severity of the offense by youth caught with alcohol. In response, SB 165 changed the penalty for a MCA from a misdemeanor to a fine of $500, which can be lessened if the youth takes an online assessment and alcohol education class. If nothing is done in response to the ticket received, the fine amount is withheld from the annual Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) amount. According to Title 4 Review, the goal of these changes was to “increase swiftness, proportionality and consistency of penalties.”
SPC’s monthly meeting was held this past Thursday at The Seward Public Library Community meeting room, as it is each month. This gathering is an opportunity to get the many and varied public health related organizations together in one room to discuss strategies, programs and events, such as their ongoing support of our Friday night winter movie series. This month’s meeting was the first time that I had heard of the MCA changes, and I was surprised to learn of the challenges that Seward has had with underage drinking and enforcement. I was curious to know more, and was fortunate to get to meet with Katie Cornwell, SPC’s Coordinator the following day, at our local “living room,” Resurrection art Coffee House.
Katie Cornwell has been living in Seward for four years. She says that her story is typical, relating that she came to Seward one summer to visit her parents, who summer in Seward. During that month long visit, she met a man, Ben, who would later become her husband. She returned to her life on the east coast, the two continued their relationship, long distance-style and eventually she decided to return to Seward. The job at Seward Prevention Coalition fit her well, as she’d been doing community organizing work in Boston on water quality issues. Additionally, she had attended graduate school for photography and had lived in New York City. Seward was appealing as a place to live and raise kids, because of its focus on community.
On a visit to Seward, Cornwell was shopping at Cover to Cover used book store down on Fourth Avenue and got to talking with owner Vanta Shafer. Ms. Shafer was talking about a man whose quonset hut had collapsed during the winter, and how tough his situation was, while also affirming that the community would figure out a solution for the man. This ethic of “people helping people” struck Katie, as it has many of us who choose to live in Seward. This was a place where she wanted to raise kids, and she’s done so, with her currently two-year-old named Benson, as well as two older step sons. The family has enjoyed the snow that this winter has brought, practicing their skills at sledding as well as ice skating.
I began this article by talking about how summer is on the way and I now I’ve ended up back at winter sports. That’s the reality of where we are here in Seward. We’re still deeply in the midst of winter, and yet the emotional climate around town is shifting. Soon the slow days of winter will shift into the hustle of spring and the frenetic days of summer. And somewhere in the midst of the activity, the Seward Prevention Coalition will continue to meet and implement programs that benefit our community, and educate our current and incoming population on the legal changes relating to MCA enforcement. The Seward Prevention Coalition will hold their next monthly meeting on Thursday, February 23rd at 12pm at the Seward Public Library and can be reached through their Facebook page.