The Herald Bulletin

January 18, 2014

Editorial: Indiana bill could help curb underage drinking

The Herald Bulletin

---- — Statistics linking underage drinking to health problems and death are staggering. Here's one of the most jarring:

— According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "teen alcohol use kills about 4,700 people each year, more than all illegal drugs combined."

We have a profound societal, cultural problem with teen alcohol use. Yet some adults continue to permit alcohol use by their children and others.

Under Indiana law, such adults can be charged with a misdemeanor for "providing" alcohol to the under-aged. Some state legislators want to fortify the law. To that end, Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, has filed a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for adults to "permit" minors to drink alcohol in the home, even if the adults didn't "provide" the alcohol.

The law would carry punishments of up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. A second-time offender would face as much as a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

The law could encourage parents to be more vigilant in keeping their kids and their kids' friends from drinking. But the legislation must be written with specificity.

If mom leaves home for a night on a business trip, and her teenage kids host an alcohol party without her permission, is she guilty of a crime? It would seem not.

Some parents have justified hosting alcohol parties for their teens, particularly on special occasions such as graduations, by reasoning that they will be safer drinking at home and sleeping off their inebriation, rather than trying to drive somewhere after drinking.

But this solution dodges the overarching issue: Drinking is illegal in Indiana for anyone under the age of 21. Allowing kids to drink under supervision, no matter what the justification, is breaking the law.

Plus, studies show that teens who have been allowed to drink at home tend to drink more often and imbibe larger quantities.

At least 28 other states have laws similar to the one proposed by Miller. Legislators must make sure the bill clearly defines what "permitting" and "condoning" teen alcohol use means. If the bill is well-written, it would be a good addition to the Hoosier criminal code as a tool to help curb underage drinking.

In summary Allowing kids to drink under supervision, no matter what the justification, is breaking the law.