Tougher Penalties Proposed for Underage Drinking | VideoJessica Roose | 2/20/2013
"Stop if you`re under 21."
Signs like this hang in bars across the state, to warn those who are underage that they cannot drink in the establishment. But lawmakers want to let those who try anyway know that their actions won`t be tolerated.
"If you want to be an adult and buy alcohol, but you`re not, we`ll treat you like one," said Representative Joe Heilman (R) from Fargo.
The bill would make it a Class B misdemeanor if caught drinking underage or providing it to someone who is. The individual would also have to complete 40 hours of community service and pay a $500 fine. Those penalties double on the second offense.
"A third offense is a Class C Felony which carries a maximum of five years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000, or both," said Representative Karen Karls (R) from Bismarck.
Lawmakers say they hope the harsher penalties will address the growing problem in the state. They say North Dakota consistently ranks among the worst states for underage drinking.
"Not only are they getting the alcohol, but they`re drinking it a lot heavier. Because it`s kind of a rush, I guess, when you`re breaking the law," Heilman said.
Not everyone thinks the Legislation is the right way to go about addressing the issue.
"When you start trying to regulate or trying to do behavior modification with society it has a way of keep pushing it underground and I think that got proven back in the 20s with prohibition," said Representative Keith Kempenich (R) from Bowman.
Others raised concerns that the bill is a one size fits all approach and that it should be up to the courts to address each case as they see fit. The bill passed with 61 votes.