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Publish Date: 5/22/2005

Stiffer penalties ready for underage drinking

DENVER — Beginning July 1, people caught providing alcohol to underage Coloradans could be fined between $500 and $5,000, under a measure awaiting Gov. Bill Owens’ consideration.

Anyone convicted of the Class 1 misdemeanor also could be ordered to serve between six and 18 months in a county jail.

A companion bill would require the state to suspend the driver’s license of anyone convicted of providing alcohol to a minor or allowing a minor to use an adult’s identification to buy alcohol.

That measure also awaits a decision by Owens whether to sign it, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature. The governor has until June 8 to make a decision.

If it becomes law, the measure also would take effect July 1.

The two bills were among a trio of measures considered during the 2005 legislative session intended to target underage and binge drinking.

A third proposed law, approved by the House but rejected by the Senate, would have created a statewide keg-tagging system making it possible for police to track down buyers of beer kegs found at parties attended by underage drinkers.

State lawmakers introduced the three bills in the wake of the alcohol-related deaths of five college students and a high school student last fall.

House Bill 1183, from Fort Collins Democratic Rep. Angie Paccione and Denver Democratic Sen. Dan Grossman, would set stiffer penalties for underage drinkers caught with alcohol, as well as for people convicted of providing alcohol to people under age 21.

“This is a small step toward improving our state’s disturbing trend of underage drinking,” Paccione said. “With stronger penalties, we can make the consequences tougher for those who choose to violate the law.” House Bill 1306, from Littleton Republican Rep. James Kerr and Jefferson County Democratic Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, would require suspending the driver’s license for six months of anyone convicted of procuring alcohol for minors.

“In 65 percent of the incidents of underage drinking, alcohol was provided by an adult,” Fitz-Gerald said.

Selling, serving or giving alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 is now a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by three months to a year in a county jail, or a fine of $250 to $1,000, or both. HB1183 would change the offense to a Class 1 misdemeanor with a sentence up to 18 months in jail, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.

Current law sets a fine of up to $100 for anyone under age 21 convicted of possessing or consuming alcohol. HB1183 would raise the fine up to $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for a third or subsequent offense.

Current law and HB1183 both allow a judge to order first-time minor offenders to perform up to 24 hours of public service and complete an evaluation, alcohol education or treatment program. Under the new law, a second or third offense would force a judge to order defendants to an evaluation or to participate in an alcohol education or treatment program.

HB1183 also includes a provision that would allow authorities to extend immunity to individuals who call 911 to report an alcohol-related emergency and who stay with a sick friend and assist medical and law-enforcement personnel.

“We want to make sure no one is afraid to call 911 in an emergency,” Paccione said. “The last thing we want to see is more of our kids dying alone on couches.”

John Fryar can be reached at jfryar@times-call.com.



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