Bill reducing penalties for underage drinking one step closer to becoming reality

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Capital News Service
LANSING — A bill to lessen penalties on minors caught with alcohol will get a hearing in the House Criminal Justice Committee next Tuesday.
The bill, which passed almost unanimously in the Senate this March, states that a Minor in Possession (MIP) charge would be reduced from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction on the first offense.
Currently, people under 21 who are caught drinking are charged with a misdemeanor that can sometimes be expunged from their record if they complete probation.
Probation includes random testing, substance abuse counseling, monthly reporting, a $100 fine, court and probation costs and costs for testing and treatment.
Under the proposed legislation which was sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, minors are simply given a ticket and a fine for their first offense.
“In some areas, students who are caught with a beer… can be thrown in jail for up to seven days,” Jones said.
About 40,000 minors were arrested for the purchase, consumption or possession of alcohol by a minor between 2009 and 2013, according to the  State Police.
Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, chair of the committee, said the bill should get committee approval.
“I think things are going to be moving along pretty well next Tuesday,” Heise said. “I haven’t heard anything negative from any of the other committee members.”
Heise said the reason for this change in law is so  one mistake wouldn’t affect a minor’s future negatively.
“We want to make sure that if you are caught… as a youthful offender with a minor in possession, that your first offense is going to be a civil infraction, so that we give you a second chance… to not make the same mistake again,” Heise said.
However, even with this proposed change, a minor caught again should not expect any leniency.
“But if you do, then we charge you with a crime and that’s going to be on your record and then you’re going to have to appear in court, you’re going to have to try to get that off your permanent record down the road, and that’s going to influence your hiring, your ability to get college scholarships and other things when they ask you about your criminal history,” Heise said.
Jones also emphasized this.
“People should know it’s only a civil infraction on the first offense. Should a student continue to make the mistake, it’s a criminal offense,” Jones said.
Not everyone is on board with this possible change.
Bruce Borkovich, police chief at Ferris State University, says s the current statute has enough leeway for minors to remove the charge from their record.
“Within the statute… if a person gets caught as a minor in possession and they go through a program and some alcohol education and a successful probation, the conviction disappears,” said Borkovich.
Another concern Borkovich has is how this will affect how minors look at underage drinking.
“I don’t generally subscribe to the lessening of the potential effect of the existing law. I think it might send the wrong message to our young people, like ‘yeah, this is something you really shouldn’t be doing, but society is not going to take it too serious,” said Borkovich.
Jones disagrees with that notion.
“I was in law enforcement for 31 years. I don’t approve of underage drinking, but a mistake should not affect a student’s life,” Jones said.
Should the committee pass the bill, a vote on the floor of the House will most likely not occur until after the election.

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