House votes to ease punishment for underage drinkers

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Underage drinkers could be spared a criminal record under legislation approved by wide margins Tuesday in the Michigan House.

The proposal, headed back to the Senate for final consideration, would make a first conviction under the state’s minor-in-possession law a civil infraction punishable by a fine of up to $100.

A second violation would result in a misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to 30 days in jail under certain conditions, matching current rules that sponsoring Sen. Rick Jones says are too harsh for first-time offenders.

“It’s very frustrating for me to hear from parents who say they’ve got an all-A student who now has a criminal record because they made one mistake,” said Jones, R-Grand Ledge.

“What we’re doing is giving them a chance not to have a criminal record — one time. They’ll still pay a fine. They can still be put in jail if they’re drunk to hold them until they’re sober.”

An underage drinker busted for the first time would also be spared automatic suspension of his or her driver’s license under the legislation. Peace officers could not arrest a minor based solely on the results of a preliminary chemical breath test.

The bill passed the House 105-1, with Republican Rep. Tom Hooker of Byron Center casting the lone “no” vote.

The Senate approved an earlier version of the legislation in March, and Jones said he expects the upper chamber will sign off on House changes later this week, sending the bill to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk for signature.