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Underage drinking causes problems for teens, parents

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Rep. Andy Jorgensen
April 14, 2012

Spring is in the air, and that has many teenagers turning their attention to prom. It can be a fun tradition with young ladies dressing up in gowns and young men learning what a corsage is.


But there’s another, less wholesome side to prom. We know the event can lead to teens engaging in risky behavior. That often can be traced back to alcohol.


Underage drinking is a major public health problem. Excessive underage drinking plays a role in 24 percent of fatal car crashes in this country, 43 percent of sexual assaults and 9 percent of suicides.


Still, some people don’t take underage drinking seriously.


A recent American Medical Association survey shows half of all teenagers say they can get alcohol from a friend’s parent, with full knowledge. Oftentimes, this access to alcohol comes during a party—and we know those kinds of parties tend to follow prom.


But for those who are considering supplying—or drinking—alcohol on prom night, I offer a reminder: There are legal consequences.


Underage drinking tickets aren’t cheap and can result in a driver’s license suspension. If a teen is caught drinking and driving, penalties increase tenfold. Adults who provide alcohol to those who are underage—or who fail to take action to prevent a minor from drinking—face first-time fines of up to $500. A second violation could lead to a 30-day imprisonment. If a minor is hurt or killed because of the alcohol provided, the responsible adult faces felony charges.


After discussions with Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ after two local tragedies, I’m working to further crack down on people who provide alcohol to the “under 21” crowd.


You might remember that, in 2009, an 18-year-old Jefferson County man consumed alcohol at two parties where adults provided alcohol to underage people. Hours later, the young man died in a drunken driving crash. Again in 2010, an 18-year-old woman and her 19-year-old passenger attended an underage drinking party. A rollover crash killed the 19-year-old passenger.


Current law severely penalizes those who provide alcohol to minors—people younger than 18—if they are killed or suffer great bodily harm as a result of the alcohol provided. But the law doesn’t create criminal liability for people who provide alcohol to 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds. In the cases above, the person killed was 18 or older, so the district attorney’s office could not file criminal charges against the adult homeowners who provided the alcohol. My bill ensures that adults who buy or provide alcohol for underage people may face criminal prosecution when their actions result in death or great bodily harm to an underage person.


Make no mistake, underage drinking is a matter of life and death. So if you’re an adult, don’t provide drinks to kids. If you’re a teen, please don’t drink! You don’t need alcohol to have a good time—and I challenge you to prove that at prom this year.


Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, represents the 37th Assembly District. Contact him at 1-888-534-0037, rep.jorgensen@legis.Wisconsin.gov or P.O. Box 8952, Madison, WI 53708.

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