Underage drinkers looking out for their friend’s health 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 under two conditions:
- the person voluntarily seeks or accompanies another person who is voluntarily seeking assistance at a health facility or detoxification program for treatment or observation for any immediate health concern; or
- the person initiates contact with a peace officer, emergency services personnel or 911 operator to report that another person is in need of medical assistance for an immediate health or safety concern, provided they are the first person to make such a report.
The person who receives the medical aid would also be ineligible for minor consumption prosecution.
“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.”
Approved Tuesday by the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, the bill awaits action by the House Judiciary Finance and Policy Committee. A companion, SF744, sponsored by Sen. Barb Goodwin (DFL-Columbia Heights), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Four University of Minnesota students spoke in favor of the bill. They said students often won’t call for medical help for a friend 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.
Concerned the bill could condone underage drinking, Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing) suggested the bill be limited to an age group of maybe 18-20.
In addition to concerns about how many times a student could use the “free pass,” Jim Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association, said the bill could “start down a slippery slope of where do we go next on sanctioning what is now criminal behavior.”
“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.”