Senate Bill targets teen boozing

Adults who buy alcohol for minors could face the additional penalty of losing their driver’s licenses if liquor distributors get their way in the state senate.

Proponents of the bill hope to curb underage drinking by scaring those providing alcohol for minors with stiffer penalties, but opponents worry that the proposed penalty isn’t logically connected to the crime and could cause more harm than good.

Senate Bill 948 was introduced at the request of Diageo PLC, an international seller of alcoholic beverage brands such as Smirnoff, Bailey’s and Cuervo. The bill would amend current alcohol laws to make it possible for someone who knowingly purchases alcohol for an underage person to lose her or his driver’s license and the ability to apply for a license for up to one year.

Diageo representative Rob Douglas called the revocation of driver’s licenses a "sensible punishment."

"A driver’s license is a very important thing to [those most likely to buy alcohol for minors] and we think it will have an effect," Douglas said. Most people who purchase alcohol for minors are youths who have recently come of age, he said.

The current penalty for providing alcohol to a minor in Oregon is a $350 fine to the provider upon first conviction, a $1,000 fine upon the second conviction and a $1,000 fine and "not less than 30 days imprisonment" for third and subsequent convictions, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s 2005 Peace Officer Guide.

Citing a 2004 Oregon Healthy Teen Survey, Douglas said that 70 percent of Oregon’s eleventh graders and 29 percent of eighth graders have consumed alcohol, a rate higher than the national average. He said that of these drinkers, 70 percent obtain alcohol from friends, family or another "friendly source."

The bill received a public hearing yesterday with a possible work session scheduled for the future.

Several exemptions to be added to the bill were proposed at the hearing, including one that would ensure that the new penalty would not apply to convenience store, grocery or other food service workers.

Steve Lanning of the Oregon United Food and Commercial Workers said they would support the bill if those exemptions were added.

Opponents of the bill argued that the punishment does not fit the crime.

"There’s no nexus between the violation of the law and driving," said Kelly Skye of the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. "It’s completely unrelated to driving, and that’s just bad public policy."

Skye also argued that since a large number of Oregonians depend on their cars, suspending licenses would most likely result in more uninsured drivers.

Though the amendment allows for the suspended driver to petition for a hardship permit, allowing them to drive to and from work, Skye argued that many citizens depend on their cars for more than that. "If you rely on your car a great deal … suspension of a driver’s license is a huge penalty," she said.

"We all rely on our vehicles and the privilege to drive them," Chris Gibson of the Beaverton Police Department said. "The privilege is often taken for granted."

Gibson said the new amendment would emphasize Oregon’s strict policies against the sale of alcohol to minors. "We need more of a bite in the deterrence built into the current statute."

At this point, it is unclear how many offenses it would take for an individual’s driver’s license to be revoked, but the language of the bill doesn’t distinguish between the first and the third violations, allowing courts to revoke licenses as they see fit. Although, it is unlikely this discrepancy will remain, said Patrick Donaldson, representative of Partners for Zero Tolerance for Underage Access, for the amendment was meant to be "graduated." A driver’s license would be revoked for 30 days to one year, depending on the number of violations.