Underage Drinking “Immunity” Bill Goes into Effect Monday

CC image Wikipedia.orgUnderage drinkers who are attempting to seek aid for a friend that has consumed too much alcohol will now be able to avoid a minor consumption ticket.

The law, which went into effect July 1, is designed to provide underage drinkers with a responsible solution if someone they know has had too much to drink. Both the person who seeks help and the person requiring medical attention would have immunity from an underage consumption ticket, although other fees like hospital or detox fees may still apply.

The bill is known as HF946, and it provides immunity to an underage drinker under the following conditions:

  • The person voluntarily seeks aid by bringing their friend into a health facility or detoxification center; or
  • The person initiates contact with a police officer, peace officer, emergency services member, 911 operator, or any other health or legal services provider. They also must be the first person to make the report.

Representative Tina Liebling, who sponsored the bill, said the law is designed to ensure teens receive treatment in the event of a medical emergency.

“This is about making sure that when people are underage and they are drinking or they are doing something they shouldn’t be doing and have a health emergency, that the illegal behavior doesn’t keep them from getting the health care they need,” Liebling said. “This will tell students in Minnesota that above everything, we care about their health and their lives.”

Curbing Other Crimes

The bill received plenty of support from students at the University of Minnesota. When lobbying for the bill, some students told stories about coming across an extremely intoxicated person at a house or in the dorm. Taylor Williams, the university’s student body president, said this bill could prevent other crimes from occurring.

“Whether it is a student who is attending a party and drinking for the first time that becomes ill and needs medical attention or a young woman who is sexually assaulted and needs help, current state law discourages that individual from seeking assistance,” said Williams.

According to statistics provided by Butler University, roughly 75% of sexual assaults that occur on a college campus involve alcohol. Proponents of this bill hope severely intoxicated individuals will end up in hospital beds as opposed to a stranger’s bed.

“We need to do what we can to avoid a tragedy,” said Elizabeth Huebsch, who spoke about a time she encountered an intoxicated 19-year-old on her dorm’s bathroom floor.

Slippery Slope

Few will argue against a bill that can reduce sexual assaults, but opponents of HF946 question some of the logistics behind the bill. Their main concerns were:

  • How many times an individual can use the so-called “free pass.”
  • If their should be an age restriction on the immunity clause (i.e. only people 18-20 years old should be eligible).
  • Opening a “slippery slope” by not ticketing illegal behavior.

Liebling said she was most concerned about protecting others than arguing over slippery slopes.

“We can always talk about slippery slopes,” Liebling said. “Everything we do around here is a slippery slope, but I think the members of this committee know that we need to do something about this problem.”

Related source: Minnesota House of Representatives, Butler University

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Avery Appelman is a criminal defense lawyer and the founder of Appelman Law Firm. While his practice is primarily recognized for its work with DWI and related offenses, he has 16 years of experience working with clients on drug, assault, theft, traffic, criminal sexual conduct, and prostitution charges.
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