Bill targets underage drinking
"The biggest source of most abuse comes at home,"
Connecticut law doesn't make it illegal for minors to drink on private property, just in public places. Now lawmakers are considering two bills that would outlaw drinking for anyone under 21 at a house party, with a potential fine of $500 for an offender.
One bill would make it a crime for an adult to knowingly allow minors to drink, and would allow police to enter a home if they thought underage drinking was taking place. The other, more vague proposal, prohibits providing alcohol to minors, but doesn't address how police could enforce it.
The legislature's General Law Committee heard testimony, much of it from the liquor industry, in favor of the more vague bill Thursday. But legislators have some of the same concerns about both.
"It's a good idea at the base of it, but I want to be very careful how we word it," said state Rep. Robert Godfrey , D-Danbury, and a member of the Judiciary Committee , which is considering one of the bills. "Religious use of alcohol, we should keep our nose out of. There should not be an outright prohibition on underage people drinking in their home, but there should be a prohibition of a keg party."
Sen. David Cappiello , R-Danbury, who has opposed similar legislation in the past, said he is willing to look at the proposals this year if safeguards are added to protect civil liberties.
"I don't want an angry neighbor to call in an anonymous tip to police just to have the police enter," said Cappiello. "I want to make sure the bill does not open doors to allow police to have a free reign."
Already 40 cities and towns - including New Milford, Danbury and Newtown - have keg party laws on the books, and reports of parties in those towns fell by 50 percent, according Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.
But the town approach is not working well enough, said Sen. Andrew Roraback , a Goshen Republican whose district include Brookfield and New Milford.
"The time has come for us to have a adopt a unified statute to guide the policy on important issue instead of having the patchwork of a quilt that goes from town to town," said Roraback, a Judiciary Committee member. "That invites migration for dangerous teenage behavior."
In Connecticut, 43 percent of seventh- and eighth-graders graders say they get alcohol at home with their parents permission and 57 percent of high school students say they get alcohol from home, according to the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
A statewide house party law would be an important step in curbing underage drinking, said Peter Berdon , executive director for the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers of Connecticut.
"The main way minors obtain alcohol is through what's commonly referred to as house parties," said Berdon. "My membership believes responsible alcohol consumption by adults does not include young people who have not yet reached the age of maturity, and that is 21."