Senate bill would decriminalize some instances of underage drink - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Senate bill would decriminalize some instances of underage drinking

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Certain underage drinkers could be exempt from tickets and convictions if a new State Senate bill becomes law.

The United Council of UW Students brought the original idea forward to address situations where students who have been drinking will avoid calling for emergency medical help because they don't want to get a ticket.    

UC representatives say its a situation many underage college students have witnessed while drinking at house parties.

"When someone was medically at risk, possibly could have died, because people were afraid to call the police and emergency services because of the possibility for citations," said Dylan Jambrek, the Government Relations Director for the United Council.

UW-Madison already has a policy that exempts students from academic underage drinking penalties if they call police or medical personnel in such situations.

"So, we approached Senator Risser, as UW-Madison's Senator, with bringing this good policy from UW-Madison and applying it statewide," said Jambrek.

"Under this bill, the underage drinker could call for help and be responsible by waiting for help to arrive and avoid the serious consequences of he or she himself drinking," said Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison), who introduced Senate Bill 222 on Monday.

SB 222 would expand that policy to all 26 UW System campuses and, as its written right now, every law enforcement agency in the state as well.

"And the police would not ticket them so long as they were responsible, as long as they stayed and waited for help to arrive," said Sen. Risser.

That means even if high school or middle school students called for emergency medical assistance in those situations, police could not write them a citation.  Sen. Risser says he hasn't talked about that possibility with any law enforcement agencies yet.

"Actually I expect them to endorse it because anytime you, again, support the health and safety of our students, law enforcement officials want that," said Sen. Risser.

But if there is resistance to such a broad approach, the United Council is open to changes, to make sure all UW students are still covered.

"We're open to any sort of amendments that improve the law and make sure that it applies very specifically to the people we're trying to protect," said Jambrek.

SB 222 has broad bipartisan support, with Rep. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan) serving as its lead sponsor in the Assembly.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges, but a public hearing on it has yet to be scheduled.

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