UPDATE: Senate bill would decriminalize some underage drinking - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

UPDATE:Senate bill would decriminalize some instances of underage drinking

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Certain underage drinkers could be exempt from tickets and convictions if a new State Senate bill becomes law.

The United Council of UW Students brought the original idea forward to address situations where students who have been drinking will avoid calling for emergency medical help because they don't want to get a ticket.    

UC representatives say its a situation many underage college students have witnessed while drinking at house parties.

"When someone was medically at risk, possibly could have died, because people were afraid to call the police and emergency services because of the possibility for citations," said Dylan Jambrek, the Government Relations Director for the United Council.

UW-Madison already has a policy that exempts students from academic underage drinking penalties if they call police or medical personnel in such situations.

"So, we approached Senator Risser, as UW-Madison's Senator, with bringing this good policy from UW-Madison and applying it statewide," said Jambrek.

"Under this bill, the underage drinker could call for help and be responsible by waiting for help to arrive and avoid the serious consequences of he or she himself drinking," said Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison), who introduced Senate Bill 222 on Monday.

SB 222 would expand that policy to all 26 UW System campuses and, as its written right now, every law enforcement agency in the state as well.

"And the police would not ticket them so long as they were responsible, as long as they stayed and waited for help to arrive," said Sen. Risser.

That means even if high school or middle school students called for emergency medical assistance in those situations, police could not write them a citation.  Sen. Risser says he hasn't talked about that possibility with any law enforcement agencies yet.

"Actually I expect them to endorse it because anytime you, again, support the health and safety of our students, law enforcement officials want that," said Sen. Risser.

But if there is resistance to such a broad approach, the United Council is open to changes, to make sure all UW students are still covered.

"We're open to any sort of amendments that improve the law and make sure that it applies very specifically to the people we're trying to protect," said Jambrek.

SB 222 has broad bipartisan support, with Rep. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan) serving as its lead sponsor in the Assembly.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges, but a public hearing on it has yet to be scheduled.

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UPDATE (WKOW) -- A bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) on Monday would exempt underage drinkers from citations if they encounter police because they called or waited for emergency medical assistance for themselves or another person.

Senate Bill 222 also seeks to prohibit UW System schools from penalizing a student for underage drinking in either of those situations.

UW-Madison already has a such a policy in place, but SB 222 would extend it to all 26 UW System campuses.

The United Council of UW students had the initial idea for Senate Bill 222.  Representatives there say they have heard multiple stories of students not calling for emergency medical assistance because they feared getting an underage drinking citation.

To make sure that provision is not abused, there are stiff penalties for falsifying the need for medical assistance.  If law enforcement finds that an underage person falsely seeks emergency medical assistance for the sole purpose of escaping a citation, that person would be subject to a $600 fine and 90 days in jail.

A representative of Sen. Risser originally told 27 News the bill was specifically targeted towards UW students and law enforcement agencies that have UW System schools within their jurisdictions. 

But the bill does not contain any language limiting the law enforcement exemption to UW students or certain law enforcement agencies.  It is written broadly enough to apply to all such underage drinking situations in the state.

Sen. Risser's staffer later told 27 News it was designed that way because the ultimate goal is to save lives, but that they welcome any reasonable amendments.

Capitol Bureau Chief Greg Neumann will have more on this story on 27 News at 5 and 6.

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UPDATE (WKOW) --- Senator Fred Risser says the bill's intent is to apply only to underage drinking of UW students in municipalities that have a UW campus.

The drinking bill is not meant to apply to underage drinking by high school students in non-UW municipalities.

The United Council of UW students had the initial idea for Senate Bill 222.

They too welcome any amendments to assure it only applies to UW students and cities.

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) on Monday would exempt underage drinkers from citations if they encounter police because they called or waited for emergency medical assistance for themselves or another person.

Senate Bill 222 also seeks to prohibit UW System schools from penalizing a student for underage drinking in either of those situations.

However, if law enforcement finds that an underage person falsely seeks emergency medical assistance for the sole purpose of escaping a citation, that person would be subject to a $100 to $600 fine and 90 days in jail.

Several Senate and Assembly Republicans have also signed on to Sen. Risser's bill.

Capitol Bureau Chief Greg Neumann will have more on this story on 27 News at 5 and 6.

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