Speakers back teen drinking bill
Published 7:00 pm, Monday, March 21, 2005
"While that was happening, the kids all gathered in the big bay window and toasted the police officers," said Catherine LeVasseur, 21, of the Connecticut Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking. "The police could not do anything."
That's because state law remains silent on whether people under 21 can drink alcohol on private property. It's a loophole in state law the Connecticut Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking wants to plug.
The Hartford-based group came out in force Monday at a public hearing on a law that would make it illegal for anyone under 21 to possess alcohol on private property.
The law would also make it illegal for anyone to serve alcohol to minors on private property - an effort to curb parent-sanctioned teen-drinking house parties.
Speaking at a public hearing on the proposed law in front of the Joint Committee on Judiciary, supporters - who included police officers, high school students, and elected officials on the town and state level - said the proposed law would save lives.
"Kids are still drinking. Kids are still dying," said Maureen Ryder, a 17-year-old senior from Durham who co-chairs the coalition's youth council.
Forty-three Connecticut towns already have adopted local laws dealing with underage drinking and house parties. Locally, those towns include Brookfield, New Milford, Newtown, Ridgefield and Sherman.
Officials in Danbury are working on a law, as well.
At a Washington, Conn., town meeting, residents deadlocked 9-9 on whether to adopt a local law. However, Washington First Selectman Richard Sears appeared at Monday's public hearing urging state lawmakers to pass the law.
Proponents of the bill said a state law would provide uniform rules and send a clear message against underage drinking.
Coalition co-chairwoman Linda Degutis told legislators the law addresses underage drinking where it is most likely to take place - in homes on private properties.
"In Connecticut, over 60 percent of teen drinking occurs in the home. Connecticut's underage drinking rate is 26 percent higher than the national average," she said.
Degutis also is a professor of surgery and public health at the Yale School of Medicine. She said the state's emergency rooms often see the aftermath of teen drinking such as car crashes, alcohol poisoning and alcohol-fueled violence.
James Strillacci, president of the Connecticut Police Chief's Association and the police chief in West Hartford, said the law is needed.
"We have laws that prohibit the sale of alcohol to minors and the procuring of alcohol by minors and (laws) that forbid possession of liquor by minors in public places. It's clear that the legislators intended to keep booze away from minors," Strillacci said.
Rep. James Lawlor, D-East Haven, co-chairman of the committee on judiciary, said some elected officials worry the proposed law would allow police officers to enter homes at will.
Sgt. Michael O'Connor, a Madison police officer, said police officers would still have to show probable cause before entering someone's house against the owner's will.
"Martial law is not going to be required," O'Connor said.
Rep. Sonya Googins, a Glastonbury Republican, said too many young people in her town have been injured and killed in alcohol-related incidents.
"It's lamentable that such legislation is needed," Googins said, urging lawmakers to push the bill out of the committee and onto the floor of the General Assembly. "It's a matter of common sense for all."
This is the fourth year in a row the coalition has lobbied legislators to pass the law. LeVasseur said the bill has the best chance of becoming law because it has more support on the local level than in previous years.
Contact Eugene Driscoll
or at (203) 426-3711.