Underage drinking is a multi-million dollar problem in the Magnolia State. Ironically, while it's illegal for minors to buy and possess alcohol, it's not illegal for them to consume the adult beverages. But now there's a bill in place to change that.
Parents may not want to believe it, but a survey of high school students reported that 70% of students have had at least one drink and nearly 20% percent participated in binge drinking.
Caroline Newkirk, the Statewide Underage Drinking Prevention Coordinator says the risky behavior leads to numerous tragedies, including violence, traffic crashes and crime.
"It's costing Mississippi an average of $600 million a year and that's money we could be spending elsewhere," said Newkirk.
During Tuesday's House Judiciary B Committee meeting, lawmakers voted to pass House Bill 729. It's an amendment to the current law, which prohibits minors from possessing a drink. The proposal would give police officers who break-up underage drinking parties, the authority to charge minors suspected of drinking. Currently, if a minor doesn't have the drink in hand, police officers can simply give a verbal warning. There's also concern over whether or not officers can breathalyze underage drinkers.
"We don't want there to be any question of what they can and cannot do with this amendment and with this change the police can go in and breathalyze these students," said Rep. Richard Bennett, the author of HB 729.
Some lawmakers posed valid concerns against the proposed consumption law, questioning whether it would prohibit minors from partaking in religious ceremonies like communion.
"This is not about what you do with your own child it stops there, this is about the mass binge drinking," said Newkirk.
Any minor charged under the proposed consumption law would be fined up to $500 and or 30 days community service. The legislation will now go before the full House for a vote.
A House committee also passed an amended version of the social host law. That's an underage drinking law that charges adults for allowing underage drinking in their homes and on their private property. The amendment to the law includes hotels and motels.
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