Stricter controls to limit underage drinking urged Coalition outlines legislative options

November 07, 1993|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- A statewide coalition is proposing three bills that would make it more difficult for people under 21 to drink alcoholic beverages -- in part by making their parents more responsible.

The group, the Maryland Underage Drinking Prevention Coalition, outlined legislation yesterday that would require the registration of all beer kegs that leave stores, slap fines on adults who allow children to drink on their property, and strengthen laws against fake IDs.

Although the group has been working since spring on bills to limit underage drinking, organizers hope to capitalize on attention created by some highly publicized incidents.

In one, parents of high school students in Potomac rented buses which their children rode to an unsupervised beer party, which was broken up by police. Parents said they had no idea the students had drinking in mind.

"I think the time is ripe for these bills," said Trina Leonard, who heads the coalition's committee on prevention. "This is a revolution. For years, you could not get people to pay attention to this issue. I think what's happening is that people suddenly have begun to recognize what a problem [underage drinking] is."

Ms. Leonard presented the proposals to some 300 people attending a conference at the Annapolis Holiday Inn. The meeting was sponsored by the Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Coalition and the Maryland Underage Drinking Prevention Coalition, which is composed of several hundred teachers, students and community leaders.

Specifically, the bills would:

* Require people purchasing beer kegs to register with retailers -- after showing a driver's license, passport or other identification -- and then certify they will not share the contents with anyone under 21.

* Make it illegal for an adult to permit people under 21 to possess or consume alcoholic beverages on his or her property. This goes further than current law, which simply prohibits adults from providing the alcohol. Parents, however, could still allow their own children to drink in family settings or to furnish alcohol as part of a religious ceremony.

* Consolidate three laws that forbid people from using fake identification cards to obtain alcohol. Subtle differences between the existing laws often cause prosecutions to fall apart in court, the coalition contends.

All three laws would impose fines not exceeding $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for subsequent violations.

The bills are expected to be filed for consideration during the 1994 General Assembly.

During yesterday's daylong conference, many people called on adults to take greater responsibility for their children's drinking.

"It's amazing how parents think their kids are immune," said Jenny Anderson, a junior at Broadneck High School, near Annapolis. "The kids can be having a beer on the back porch while the parents are upstairs. . . . they don't want to get involved," she said.

"They think we're all supposed to be good and proper, so school officials don't think we're capable of getting drunk," said Sarah Jarrell, a junior at St. Mary's High School in Annapolis. "But it happens."

Former Surgeon General Antonia C. Novella told the group in a luncheon speech that society has focused too narrowly on the perils of drunken driving, forgetting to tell youngsters that alcohol also causes disease, crime, injuries, vandalism, truancy and poor school performance.

Many youngsters mistakenly believe they can drink safely as long as they don't get behind the wheel, she said. She said parents also have passed along the fallacy that beer is a safe drink. (A can of beer has the same alcoholic content as a shot of liquor).

"The parents must stop this complacency," said Dr. Novella, who served in the Bush administration. "Getting drunk every weekend is no rite of passage."

The citizens coalition also endorsed proposals by the Motor Vehicle Administration to impose more barriers to underage drinking.

One would allow the MVA to suspend the license of anyone violating an alcohol law, even if the infraction did not involve driving.

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