A stronger underage drinking law

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Underage drinking is a challenge that the Cassville community is working hard to address. Recent assessments conducted by the Community 2000 Coalition reveal that underage drinking is a very real problem that plagues many of the young people living in the Cassville R-IV School District. The Coalition, which has grown to include dozens of community leaders, is currently working on a strategic plan to combat underage and risky drinking among 13- to 25-year-olds in the area.

We're excited about these proposed programs and are thrilled that so many segments of the local community are getting involved in finding ways to combat underage drinking. In addition to local efforts, we were further encouraged recently when we read about Senate Bill 555, which has been proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Michael R. Gibbons, R-Kirkwood.

Gibbons' proposed law would build upon a law passed in 2005 that strengthened the state's underage drinking laws to include minor in possession by consumption and minor in possession by visible intoxication. Senate Bill 555 would bolster that law by requiring minors suspected of being intoxicated to submit to a breathalyzer test if requested by police officers. If the minor refuses, they could still be found "visibly intoxicated" and charged with a minor in possession offense. The bill would also allow driver's license revocation to be a consequence of repeated minor in possession offenses.

Another key provision in Senate Bill 555 would be the creation of a uniform reporting system for minor in possession charges. Right now, a minor can be arrested in one county one day and another county the next without law enforcement officials knowing the minor is a prior offender. A uniform system would make sure a young person gets help for his drinking earlier than later.

Another factor in curbing underage drinking is attempting to determine where minors are obtaining their alcohol and then cracking down on those who are supplying it. Senate Bill 555 also addresses this issue by targeting adults who allow minors to drink on their property. Under the proposed legislation, anyone who is guilty of providing alcohol to a minor, knowingly allows a minor to drink on his or her property or knowingly fails to stop a minor from drinking will be subject to claims for damages by the minor's parents. The fear of a lawsuit might be what it takes to make adults wise up and realize that providing alcohol to minors or providing minors with a place to party can result in serious consequences.

We support Senate Bill 555 and appreciate Gibbons' efforts in sponsoring the bill. It is our understanding that the bill was created after the legislator conducted nine roundtable discussions around the state and gathered input on the issue of underage drinking from law enforcement officers, prosecutors, school administrators, counselors, community advocates, parents, teachers and students. This type of dialogue is a good place to start, and as we've already seen happen in the Cassville community, it leads to new ideas and new inspiration for moving ahead with solutions that can really make a difference for our young people.