Newly enacted Pennsylvania
underage drinking law imposes
tougher sanctions on offenders
on December 28, 2012 at 12:15 PM, updated December 28, 2012 at 1:01 PM
They already face a mandatory license suspension. Now anyone under age caught drinking will deal with tougher sanctions that strike at the wallet.
A new state law this week began imposing stiffer penalties on underage drinking, increasing the maximum fine for someone under age 18 cited for drinking from $300 to $500, with a maximum $1,000 penalty on a second offense.
The law, designed to reduce underage drinking and underage public drunkenness, went into effect Monday.
Lt. Mark Green of East Pennsboro Twp. police said he is hopeful the stiffer penalties will accomplish their goal — discourage underage people from drinking.
“I think if word can get out about the severity of the penalties, the maximum of $500 to $1,000, certainly $300 and $500 were a lot to a kid, so $1,000 is very substantial,” he said.
The chief sponsor of the law, Pennsylvania Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre County, said he was approached by State College officials concerned with a rising police budget as a result of alcohol-related crimes. As in many college towns, police in State College routinely deal with underage-drinking related incidences, although the widespread problem is not unique to just college towns.
“It was their feeling that this whole cost of that budget shouldn’t be bear by property tax owners — homeowners. That people who perpetrated these crimes should bear some responsibility as well,” Corman said.
In a town where seven out of every 10 people are between the ages of 15 and 24 and two-thirds of all crime is alcohol-related, State College spends nearly half of its budget on police enforcement, according to borough police.
Corman said the focus of the law was to increase the maximum penalty, not change the minimum.
“That’s a way to not only act as a deterrent, which is what we want to see, but, two, to help municipalities raise revenue to pay for all this cost,” he said.
Last year, Pennsylvania logged 13,959 convictions for underage drinking-related offenses and 27,309 convictions for public drunkenness, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
Stephen Erni, executive director of The Pennsylvania Driving Under the Influence Association welcomes passage of the new law, but thinks officials statewide need to do more to address the widespread problem of underage drinking.
“We feel that while increasing the size of penalties may in fact send a message, we very strongly feel we cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” he said.
Erni said that in addition to consistent application of the law by the courts, prevention, education and treatment must also be emphasized in any strategy addressing the problem.
“We all know we have cut back on prevention dollars, because that’s the kind of world we live in and prevention is the step child of anything,” Erni said. “But we need to focus on proper funding for education such as mandating alcohol education and providing for treatment for those in need of it.”
Tougher penalties aside, a tough deterrent has been in the law books for years, Green said.
“I think the biggest deterrent in the existing law is the driver license suspension,” he said. “When we file charges on underage drinking the biggest concern is the license suspension.”
Mandatory suspension time increases with the number of offenses.
Green said the incidence of underage drinking and driving seems to have decreased in the past 15 years.
“That’s a very good thing,” he said.
Corman said he hopes to next year introduce a companion bill that would allow municipalities with colleges and universities within their boundaries impose a $100 court fee on alcohol-related crimes. Revenue raised from that fee would be applied to alcohol prevention programs, he said.