LANSING People under the age of 21 may get some relief from laws that make them criminals for underage drinking.
Under legislation that passed the state Senate Thursday on a 36-2 vote, a first minor in possession of alcohol offense would become a civil infraction, punishable by a $100 fine, instead of the current misdemeanor charge which carries a $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail.
More than 6,000 minors, many of them in college towns, got popped for trying to buy or consume alcohol in 2013 and were charged with misdemeanors for their youthful indiscretions, according to statistics from the Michigan State Police..
But Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, sponsored the legislation because he doesn’t think kids should be put in jail for drinking a beer.
“It’s been very shocking for me to hear from parents across the state that some judges are giving kids seven days in jail for minor in possession,” he said. “It’s outrageous to criminalize young people for having a beer.”
The second offense would be a misdemeanor punishable by 30 days in jail and a $200 fine. A third offense would carry a sentence of up to 60 days and a $500 fine and possible revocation of the offender’s driver’s license.
Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, was one of two Republicans – the other was Sen. Mike Green, of Mayville – to oppose the legislation.
“We are a nation of laws and laws should mean something too … Otherwise, I just feel you’re encouraging underage drinking,” she said. “And the current process allows the prosecutor to enter into a deferred sentence.”
From 2009-13, the latest statistics available from the Michigan State Police, 38,499 people under 21 were arrested for some sort of minor in possession charge. And counties with college towns racked up some of the biggest numbers, including: Ingham County, home of Michigan State University with 863 citations in 2013; Washtenaw County, home to the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University, with 401 MIP charges; and Isabella County, home of Central Michigan University, with 233 charges.
The bills – SB 332-333 – now move to the House of Representatives for consideration.