New law reduces penalties for minors caught consuming alcohol

Published: Jul. 7, 2016 at 5:28 PM AKDT
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A new rule signed into law on Wednesday by Governor Bill Walker reduces the punishment for minors caught consuming alcohol.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Peter Micciche, said it was a large group effort involving between 60 and 70 people to change the penalties for underage drinking.

Rather than being charged with a misdemeanor and having it go on their permanent records, Micciche said the new rule holds young people accountable without it hindering future job, college, or scholarship prospects.

"We have compromised so many young lives with extreme consequences for sometimes just being at the wrong place at the wrong time and not even consuming where alcohol was present," Micciche said.

Rebecca Koford, a board member of United Youth Courts of Alaska, said the bill will make it easier to enforce rules surrounding underage drinking.

"They changed it so all minor consuming alcohol cases are now minor violations so youth that get in trouble, it's no longer quasi-criminal," Koford said.

Instead of a misdemeanor that stays on their records, minors will face a $500 fine which can drop to $50 if they attend an alcohol education course and provide proof of completion.

"I think $500 is a lot of money for a teenager, even if the income's out of their PFD, it's still a large amount of money, it's still a real consequence," Koford said.

Sen. Micciche's office said court system data shows between 2009 and 2013, about 10,000 minors in Alaska faced convictions for consuming alcohol and nearly 6,000 cases were dismissed.

While some may see the new consequences as being too light, Jeff Jessee, CEO of Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority said the rule is a more realistic approach to handling these cases.

"The system we had before really discouraged enforcement," Jessee said. "Although the penalty seemed harsher, it actually had the effect of reducing enforcement, so we wanna make sure that every time a police officer goes to an underage party and they identify kids that are underage drinking, that they are all held accountable."

The citations are a method Jessee said he hopes will stop the problem at the root.

"We wanna get away from penalties that cause people to have a criminal record and focus more on dealing with their drinking issues and discouraging them," Jessee said.

The new rule also creates a seat on the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board for a public safety representative and allows for background checks of individuals applying to operate marijuana retail establishments in the state.