Underage drinking bill will save lives

Adults should do nothing that encourages juveniles to drink alcoholic beverages. Nothing. They also should not leave minors to sink or swim when they abuse alcohol, however.

That is the philosophy behind a bill introduced in the Ohio General Assembly. It would provide very limited immunity from prosecution for juveniles who seek help when they or others they are with consume so much alcohol they suffer medical emergencies.

The bill, HC 392, has bipartisan support. It was co-sponsored by state Reps. Michael Stinziano, D-Columbus, and Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville.

”This bill will save lives,” said Stinziano. He is right.

Under current law, juveniles have every reason to worry about what will happen to them if they call 911 to get help for someone who has consumed so much alcohol he needs medical treatment. In effect, such a call can amount to a confession to police that the caller – who may be the person in trouble – has broken the law. Law enforcement officers have no choice but to make an arrest when faced with such evidence.

Beyond any reasonable doubt, that prevents some minors from getting the medical help they need.

Many colleges and universities have such ”good Samaritan” policies for on-campus reports of dangerous alcohol abuse. A Dennison University official told a reporter that after her institution established such a policy in 2009, the number of calls for help increased substantially.

The bill would prohibit prosecution for underage consumption of alcohol if police became aware of it solely because medical help had been sought. The caller would have to provide his real name.

Legislators may want to consider placing some conditions in the bill. For example, some colleges and universities with similar provisions require those making calls for help take classes on the dangers of abusing alcohol.

Some critics of the bill may argue it encourages juveniles to drink. That is doubtful. Sadly – often aided and abetted by adults – too many young Ohioans already abuse alcohol.

When they or their friends get into medical trouble, the proposal really could save lives.

Legislators should approve the bill and Gov. John Kasich should sign it into law.