Drinking immunity bill awaits approval

By Alexander Chettiath

A bill that would give immunity to underage drinking violators is awaiting approval from Gov. Bruce Rauner to become law.

The bill, drafted by Rep. Scott Drury (D-Highwood), allows minors to call for help in situations of overconsumption of alcohol without fear of criminal charges.

“In order to be under the umbrella of the statute, a person needs to proactively take some action,” Drury said. “The police can’t be at a scene because they heard of something or are raiding a party.”

Rep. Bob Pritchard (R-Hinckley) voted against the bill despite having mixed emotions about it. His reasons were personal responsibility of the underage individual, he said.

“I don’t understand the reason to give an exemption from our laws that say you shouldn’t drink if you’re underage,” Pritchard said. “We have punishment laws for accountability because people don’t do it voluntarily.”

Drury drafted the bill after the parents of a teenage girl came to him. Their daughter had consumed too much alcohol at a party and her friends left her for fear of repercussions. An acquaintance of hers called the police and both of them were given citations from the local police, Drury said.

“As a legislator and a parent of a teenager, it was very real for me and I think it would be great if kids didn’t drink when they were underage — and certainly that is the law and I don’t condone it — but we also have to be realistic that kids are doing that and if they make a bad decision and get themselves into trouble, I would want someone to call for help,” Drury said.

The most common reason people cite for delaying or failing to call for help in situations of an overdose is fear of police involvement, according to a 2005 study by the New York Academy of Medicine and Columbia University.

The motivation for the bill is reminiscent of a situation in 2012 in which freshmen David Bogenberger was found unresponsive at the former Pi Kappa Alpha house, 1020 W. Hillcrest Drive, with a blood-alcohol content of .351 percent, according to a DeKalb County Coroner’s report. Bogenberger’s death resulted in reckless conduct convictions for five men who attended the party the night before he died.

“It doesn’t give immunity to someone from all criminal activity that is often associated with underage drinking,” Drury said. “Hypothetically, if a fraternity or a sorority were hazing, they would be in violation of the anti-hazing laws we have put in place. It is not a get out of jail free card.”

Twenty seven states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar medical amnesty policies or “Good Samaritan 911” laws since the first in 2007, according to Drugpolicy.org.

Emergency calls increased after Cornell University’s Good Samaritan Policy was enacted in 2002, although alcohol abuse rates have remained relatively constant, according to a 2006 study done by Cornell University.

Underage drinking is a leading contributor to death from injuries, which are the main cause of death for people under age 21, according to the National Institute of Health’s website. Every year, approximately 5,000 persons under the age of 21 die from causes related to underage drinking, according to the National Institute of Health.

“I’m sure there will be consequences for these kids but it shouldn’t be death,” Drury said.