New bill to target underage drinking


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A bill in the Iowa Legislature could help local law enforcement crack down on house parties.

While it's already illegal to supply alcohol to minors, a Republican-sponsored proposal would allow officers to fine anyone who has minors drinking on their property. The bill also adds language to the Iowa Code to make "consumption" of alcohol by minors illegal rather than just "possession."

Rep. Lee Hein, R-Monticello, introduced the bill in February 2011. He said he is concerned about underage drinking, especially in rural areas. Heins' home county has a population of just around 20,000.

"What I would like to see is making [underage-drinking laws] more uniform across the state," Hein said.

Under the proposal, those caught allowing minors to drink at their home would face a fine of $500. Underage consumers would also take at least a $500 hit.

One alcohol expert on the University of Iowa campus said the bill is a good idea.

"There is significant reason to reduce access to alcohol," said Kelly Bender, the UI coordinator for community and campus alcohol harm-reduction initiatives. "It's always been about putting the pieces of the puzzle together. People say that [this bill] is just one piece."

"There are a lot of other things [the UI] can do and things we are working on," she said. "The university has an alcohol harm-reduction plan. It includes numerous goals and numerous strategies [to reduce underage drinking]."

The plan was established last fall to decrease the number of UI students who binge drink by 15 percent in a span of three years. The university is also involved in the Partnership for Alcohol Safety, a combined effort between the city and the UI to combat risky drinking.

Some say current alcohol restrictions for minors are sufficient.

"I am concerned about language in the bill that specifically targets consumption of alcohol," said UI Student Government President Elliot Higgins. "People under the age of 21 are already faced with numerous codes that target consumption. Enlarging the scope of what is against the law is what concerns me."

He said that if the bill was reworked, it would be more beneficial to the Iowa City area.

"I think that it's important that the university takes underage drinking seriously, especially binge drinking," Higgins said. "I do not like the University of Iowa being portrayed as a party school; I think it damages the value of the degree."

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