Underage drinking bills flood legislature
Published 12:00 am, Monday, March 21, 2005
With proposals ranging from banning pub crawls to making all new drivers take an alcohol education course before getting a license, at least a dozen alcohol-related bills are on tap in Hartford. Whether any will become law is another story.
Motivation for the bills varies. Several deal with underage drinking. Other bills deal with "
"-like partying with alcohol. Still more deal with the intricacies of the alcohol industry.
, a lobbyist with the
Connecticut Package Store Association
in Middletown, said the flurry of alcohol-related legislation is unusual. "Is it typical? No," Hughes said. "There has been a significant amount of legislation recently on liquor."
A "pub crawl" bill from Rep.
, R-Fairfield, was born of tragedy.
A pub crawl is an event where packs of drinkers roam from bar to bar for a night of drinking - usually in a college town. The bars often offer group discounts and publicize the events. Independent promoters often organize the crawls and provide transportation.
student was killed in Newport, R.I., last May when he encountered a group of students from the
University of Rhode Island
on a pub crawl. The student fell into the street and was struck by a bus transporting the pub crawl students. The accident spurred Rhode Island legislators to ban crawls.
"There's no way to regulate responsible drinking," Tymniak said, but maybe if these events were stopped it would change the environment."
, R-New Milford, has a bill that would ban alcohol without liquid (AWOL) machines. The devices, found in a handful of bars in big cities, allow customers to inhale mists of booze, delivering alcohol to the brain much quicker than drinking.
The machines are the subject of controversy in several states and the federal
Food and Drug Administration
is deciding whether to regulate them.
Chapin hasn't heard of any Connecticut bars that have the machines. The company marketing the product in the United States did not return calls for comment.
"I personally see no good use for them," Chapin said. "Like most people, state legislators had not heard of (the machines) either, so I don't expect it to pass this year but it certainly gives me the opportunity to educate people as to what they are."
, D-Hartford, introduced a bill that would force anyone who wants a driver's license to first take a drug and alcohol education course. Currently, only teens must take the class.
"We have new drivers who are 21 and over who can drink alcohol legally and they are not required to go through this class when they get a license," Green said. "I would suspect drinking and driving would probably be more prevalent in those who are 21."
, R-Norwalk, wants to suspend the driver's license of anyone found guilty of giving alcohol to someone under 21.
, R-Danbury, introduced a bill that would regulate underage dance parties held at bars and nightclubs. The bill surfaced after Danbury officials complained about underage hip-hop events at an Ives Street nightclub.
Other proposals look to test police officers for drugs and alcohol and to levy fines on clerks and bartenders who serve underage drinkers. Then there's a proposal that would require walls be put in public places where alcohol is served to separate drinkers from the non-drinkers.
Bills also are percolating in Hartford that would toughen the state's stance on underage drinking on private property, including a version from Rep.
, R-Brookfield and Rep.
Mary Ann Carson
, R-New Fairfield.
The proposed laws largely mirror laws already adopted in Brookfield, New Milford, Newtown, Redding, Ridgefield - and under discussion in Danbury.
Elected officials and lobbyists disagree on whether there are more alcohol-related bills than in years past.
"It wasn't on the radar during my time in the legislature like it is now," said Danbury Mayor
. "It's probably an issue that bubbled to the surface this year because of experiences the legislators have had in their various communities, such as terrible tragedies where people had an accident."
In Newtown in recent years, parent groups formed after a survey at the high school showed students were drinking more. In New Milford, a 17-year-old student died on his way home from a party, prompting that town to focus on teen drinking, as well.
There are also statistics that paint a grim picture of underage drinking habits in the state.
Young people in Connecticut start drinking as early as age 11, two years earlier than the rest of the country, according to the
to Stop Underage Drinking. Teens also drink at rates 26 percent to 28 percent higher than their peers nationally, the coalition states.
Of the 131 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Connecticut in 2003, 17 involved people under 21, according to
The Century Council
, a group in Washington, D.C., funded by the country's leading distillers to fight underage drinking.
"What very often happens is that an individual legislator will look at a situation that has arisen in his or her community and try to respond to that. That is probably what you're seeing," said
, president of the
Connecticut Restaurant Association
, who serves on the executive committee of the Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking, said the flurry of alchol-related bills actually started a few years ago. "There's been a ground swell of awareness on the local level, which the legislators are taking back to Hartford," Turner said.
The real question is whether any of the bills will become law by the end of the session. Turner said the bill that has the best chance is a bill scheduled to get a public hearing today. The law would bar any person under 21 from handling or drinking alcohol on private property - a gray area under current law. The law also would provide sanctions for adults who allow minors to have alcohol on private property. The law's intent is to prevent teen house parties, which some parents allow, thinking the minors are safe to drink in their presence.
Some 40 towns in the state have passed the law locally to close the gap in state law.
"The data shows that most kids who are drinking are in groups, in homes, on private property where adults may or may not be present," Turner said.
Contact Eugene Driscoll
or at (203) 731-3348.