Okla. Senate Passes Underage Drinking Bill

April 12, 2006

Legislation designed to curb underage drinking passed the Oklahoma Senate by a vote of 45-1. House Bill 3056 by Sen. Jeff Rabon, D-Hugo, and Rep. Thad Balkman, R-Norman, creates the Prevention of Youth to Access to Alcohol (3.2 beer) Act.

The measure would strengthen statutes relating to underage drinking, mandating stronger penalties and fines for those who provide alcohol to minors. Increased revenue produced by higher fines would provide additional funding for law enforcement agencies to combat issues related to underage drinking, including drunk driving.

“In 2003, 2,300 Oklahomans under the age of 21 were arrested for DUI, with people under the age of 18 accounting for nearly 1,100 of those arrests,” Rabon said. “In 2004, 15 percent of alcohol related crashes in Oklahoma were caused by drivers under the age of 21. When you look at the data, it’s clear we’re behind in terms of preventing the sale of alcohol to minors and this bill goes a long way toward fixing that problem”.

Under the Act, a minor’s first offense would merit a fine of up to $300 and/or 30 hours of community service. A second offense would result in the suspension of the minor’s driver’s license for six months, in addition to 60 hours of community service or both and a one year driver’s license suspension.

Rabon said the provisions related to driver’s license suspension came at the request of Oklahoma students and minors participating in a legislative task force last year to prevent youth access to alcohol.

“As we conducted our legislative task force and interim studies on this issue, it was the students that suggested driver’s license suspensions as the most effective deterrent to the problem and the best way to make an impression on minors,” Rabon noted.

Rep. Balkman praised the Senate’s passage of the measure, calling it a positive step toward curbing a major problem among Oklahoma youth.

“I’m thrilled House Bill 3056 has taken its final step through the legislative process and am confident Governor Henry will sign it,” Balkman said. “This bill is the culmination of more than a year-and-a-half of hard work to address this important issue.”

According to a survey from the Oklahoma Prevention Policy Alliance, approximately 65 percent of Oklahoma youth said it is very easy to purchase beer, leading lawmakers to craft a bill specifically tailored to reducing underage access to low point beer.

“We know that beer is the drink of choice for kids and, unfortunately, beer is all too readily available to minors,” added Balkman. “This bill provides a strong deterrent to those who break the law and serve beer.”

Yukon High School senior Kristin Nailer, part of a group of high school students lobbying in favor of the measure, expressed her gratitude for the Senate vote. “It’s been a challenge to get this bill passed. I know it’s going to help a lot of kids down the road. This is so exciting,” she said.

HB 3056 will now return to the House of Representatives for consideration by the full body.

Source: Oklahoma Senate

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