Senate OKs bill reducing penalty for underage drinkers

Associated Press

Lansing — Minors caught drinking alcohol for the first time in Michigan might soon have a lighter penalty under legislation the state Senate passed Thursday that would make it a civil infraction instead of a misdemeanor.

Underage drinkers who are caught would get a $100 fine under the bill that the House referred to a committee.

“Even if they have a beer in their system, they’re getting charged with a minor in possession,” said Sen. Rick Jones, a Republican from Grand Ledge who sponsored the legislation. “This is outrageous, criminalizing young people for having a beer, or even a beer in their system.”

The bill would make the second offense a misdemeanor. The third offense would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine, and the minors caught with alcohol could have their driver’s licenses suspended like they do under current law.

GOP Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker voted against the bill, along with fellow Republican Sen. Mike Green of Mayville. Schuitmaker said she doesn’t think lawmakers should change the underage drinking penalties.

“I just feel it’s against the law and it should be held that way,” Schuitmaker said, adding, “This is about whether we have a nation of laws and have criminal penalties that go along with that.”

Data from 2014 shows courts in the state secured about 9,300 convictions for a first minor-in-possession charge that year. State police records reveal that there were about 40,000 underage drinking arrests from 2009 to 2013.