JEFFERSON COUNTY, Mo. - Underage drinkers in Jefferson County aren't having too much trouble getting their hands on what they want.
The county has the highest rate of underage drinking in the entire state. The Missouri Student Survey says 19 percent of kids age 12-18 statewide drink alcohol. In Jefferson County it's 25 percent.
Compliance checks done between November 2013 and April 2014 show 34 percent of the 89 Jefferson County businesses tested sold alcohol to minors.
That's a problem Jefferson County P.R.I.D.E. (Partners Responsible 4 Increasing Drug Education) is trying to change. The federally and state-funded coalition runs the compliance checks in cooperation with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department.
"We send minors in to try to purchase alcohol," said Lili Schliesser of P.R.I.D.E. "These kids are all 18 to 19-years-old. They look very young. They were asked for their ID and were still sold alcohol."
Jefferson County P.R.I.D.E. offers free server/seller training to better educate business owners and their employees on Missouri liquor laws and the consequences of selling to minors. But those consequences aren't always being realized in Jefferson County.
The Missouri Department of Alcohol and Tobacco Control is responsible for punishing liquor law violations. But Schliesser says compliance checks done in March and April of 2013 still haven't been handled by the state.
"We had to ask 'Where is the enforcement?' And that's when we realized the funding for enforcement at the state level has been significantly decreased over the last few years. They're not able to keep up. It's a funding issue and a communication issue. Regardless of the problem, the message to Jefferson County is this isn't necessarily being handled at a state level."
Department of Alcohol and Tobacco Control spokesman Mike O'Connell sent NewsChannel 5 this statement:
This morning, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department notified the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control that it was sending by U.S mail numerous alcohol compliance check reports dating back to last year. The statute of limitations for the ATC state supervisor to take administrative action against a liquor license holder is three years. ATC will be reviewing these reports and looks forward to continuing to work with local law enforcement.
Jefferson County P.R.I.D.E. is also working with city governments to create local ordinances that would give municipalities more control when it comes to punishments due to liquor law violations.