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Lawmakers consider underage drinking exemption

Published On: Aug 15 2013 06:21:20 PM CDT   Updated On: Aug 15 2013 08:10:38 PM CDT

Should underage drinkers who call for help be exempted from getting tickets?

The Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities was grappling with that question Thursday as it held a hearing on a bill whose aim is to make sure young people who get in medical trouble while drinking get emergency help.

The bill would do that by saying the person who calls for help and the person in trouble would both be exempt from getting an underage drinking ticket and possible sanctions from their school including getting kicked out of dorms or suspended.

"By the end of the night it became clear that one of my friends who was a freshman pre-med major had reached the point of alcohol poisoning," said University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student Sam Milewsky. "Incoherently, she asked me not to contact a resident assistant or call an ambulance because she was afraid of losing a scholarship and it affecting her career goals."

Milewsky said he didn't call and his friend was OK, but he thinks of the situation often.

"I think this law allows students to not have to choose between looking out for their career and looking out for the welfare of their friends," said Milewsky.

UW Police Chief Sue Riseling, who testified at Thursday's hearing, said that the intentions of the bill were good, and that UW guidelines say they typically don't ticket callers. Her problem was with the fact that those who drank themselves into trouble wouldn't get a ticket either.

"If you allow people to drink to the point of incapacitation and make them immune from the law, you will kill more people, and I'm going to use that word, 'kill,'" said Riseling. "You are talking about people who are 0.33, 0.30 [blood alcohol content] and now they're immune."

Riseling said officers should also have the latitude to deal with situations as they arise.

One UW-Eau Claire student said that discretion worked against her friend. Miri Francis told committee members of her 16-year-old friend who reported a sexual assault after drinking.

"The first thing they did was cite her," said Francis. "They gave her an underage drinking ticket because there were pictures of her holding alcohol and consuming it, and that really tore her down. She was actually sorry she went to the police to tell them she was raped."

Riseling told the committee that situation was "beyond the pale."

"To cite a victim of sexual assault for alcohol consumption, it is unconscionable," said Riesling. "If that is the point, then pass that law."

Just three campuses in the UW System have these types of guidelines in place, including UW-Madison, Eau Claire and Stevens Point. The bill aims to spread that type of policy to all campuses, but does it by putting the provision into state law, therefore meaning it could also apply to underage high school students and municipal police departments.

The bill is now awaiting a vote in the committee before advancing.

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