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January 10, 2014

Legislation looks to shut down the underage drinking party

Legislation would make adults accountable for youth drinking.

(Continued)

A similar measure has been floated previously but didn’t get much attention. This year the bill has the support of a key legislative gatekeeper, Republican state Sen. Mike Young, an Indianapolis lawyer who chairs the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee.

“As a parent, I’d be upset to hear that other parents were letting that go on and being a part of it,” Young said. “This law would cover not just parents, but any adult who allows it to happen.”

The bill also has strong support from the Indiana Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking.

Coalition director Lisa Hutcheson said the law may change cultural attitudes toward drinking – especially excessive drinking. A recent study found nearly one-quarter of Indiana teenagers admit to binge drinking – defined as having five or more drinks in a row – while almost one-third of adults admit to regular binge drinking.

Hutcheson rejects the argument that it’s better to have teenagers consume alcohol within the confines of a home, where they can be monitored, rather than let them drink unsupervised. She said it’s unrealistic for adults to think they can monitor every teenager at a party, and it also sends the wrong message.

“I always say to parents, ‘Would you teach your kid how to smoke crack or rob a bank?’” she said. “You’re telling them it’s OK to break the law as long as you’re supervising them.”

If the law passes, Indiana would join a growing number of states with “social host” laws intended to discourage adults from condoning underage drinking.

In 2000, Massachusetts expanded a law that forbids adults from providing alcohol to underage drinkers, to include adults who “allowed” the drinking to occur. It came after an 18-year-old teenager drove home drunk from a graduation party hosted by a fellow graduate’s parent who denied furnishing the alcohol. The teen crashed his car into a telephone pole and died.

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