Helping intoxicated underage drinkers do the right thing


Underage drinkers looking out for their health or that of a friend could avoid a minor consumption ticket.

Sponsored by Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester), HF946 would provide that a person under age 21 who consumes or possesses an alcoholic beverage would not be subject to prosecution “if the person contacts a 911 operator to report that the person or another person is in need of medical assistance for an immediate health or safety concern, provided that the person who initiates contact is the first person to make a report, provides a name and contact information, remains on the scene until assistance arrives and cooperates with the authorities at the scene.”

The person receiving medical attention would also not be charged with underage drinking; nor would one or two persons acting in concert with the caller if they provide contact information and cooperate at the scene. “Sometimes the nature of an emergency is such that somebody needs to call while other people attend to the person with the emergency,” Liebling said.

Passed 124-8 by the House Thursday, the bill now goes to the Senate where it is sponsored by Sen. Barb Goodwin (DFL-Columbia Heights).

“This is a bill that tells young people that when they or a friend get into trouble, that we care more about their life and their health than we do about any punishment they might incur because of that drinking,” Liebling said.

Four University of Minnesota students spoke March 12 before the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee in favor of the bill. They said students often won’t call for medical help for fear of getting a minor consumption ticket.

“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 Taylor Williams, student body president on the Twin Cities campus.

“We need to do what we can to avoid a tragedy,” said Elizabeth Huebsch, who told of finding a 19-year-old girl in a dorm bathroom who’d been drinking wine. “Her roommate had never seen Brittany react to alcohol this way and wasn’t sure what to do,” Huebsch said. Brittany ultimately ended up spending more than two days in a hospital as doctors tried to determine what was wrong.

“I want everybody to know it’s OK to ask for help,” said Rep. Dan Schoen (DFL-St. Paul Park). “You might have to deal with mom and dad in the morning, but, by God, it’s better off to do it alive than dead.”

Although he supports the bill’s intent, Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing) voted against it. He wanted to see it restricted to students age 18 and above. “I believe college students understand that this is a life-and-death situation, their reasoning is sound and they understand they should help the individual. I’m afraid the high school students see this as simply a way to get out of something.”