TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Underage drinkers could avoid criminal charges if they call for medical help under a bill the Kansas House approved Friday in what supporters said is an effort to head off preventable tragedies.
The bill passed, 92-27. The Senate passed the measure last year, but the House Judiciary Committee made technical changes that senators must consider before the bill can go to Gov. Sam Brownback.
Underage drinkers would not be charged if they called law enforcement or emergency medical services for themselves or other drinkers. They also would have to cooperate and remain on the scene.
Rep. Tom Phillips, R-Manhattan, says the bill is designed to prevent alcohol poisoning and deaths of college students, The Wichita Eagle reported.
“We do need to encourage youth to make the right decision to bring help when there is a need for medical services,” Phillips said.
Some opponents said the bill goes beyond treating underage drinkers with compassion by removing consequences for underage drinkers.
“It creates amnesty and immunity to habitual drinkers who have serious drinking problems,” said Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita. “This bill effectively creates a preferred class of offenders.”
Whitmer wanted the bill to require notifying the drinker’s parents or guardians and to include diversion programs and penalties for repeat offenders. His proposed amendment was defeated.
“Somebody has to be notified and someone has to be held accountable . Actions should have consequences,” Whitmer said.
Several lawmakers said those changes would defeat the bill’s purpose.
“This bill is not about punishment,” said Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita. “If you start imposing hoops and diversions and driver’s license suspensions in this context, it defeats the entire purpose of what we’re doing here. This is about saving children’s lives.”
The bill passed on a voice vote after about 25 minutes of debate.
“If this bill saves one life, it’s worth it,” said Rep. Brett Hildabrand, R-Shawnee.
This story has been corrected to show that House approval sends the bill back to the Senate, not to the governor.
Underage drinking bill: http://bit.ly/1KvytRe
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