New bill would replace misdemeanor charges for underage drinking with fine

Underage kids caught drinking alcohol won’t rack up a permanent charge on their record under a bill that passed the legislature last week.

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Sen. Pete Micciche chairs a Senate Finance Health and Social Services Subcommittee during discussions about the close-out of that department’s budget, March 4, 2016. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)
Sen. Pete Micciche sponsored the bill that would remove misdemeanors from underage alcohol consumers. (File photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Imagine a high school party. All the kids are underage — some are drinking. When police bust the party, they issue citations- even to kids who haven’t had a drop of alcohol.

In Alaska, seventy-five percent of alcohol related charges are for minors consuming alcohol. That makes it the number one alcohol charge statewide — affecting about 3000 young people each year.

Soldotna Republican Senator Peter Micciche sponsored senate bill 165. He says the punishment can stay with kids forever.

“What we were doing before is a misdemeanor criminal offense that went on court view and compromised not only their success throughout the rest of high school, but when it became time for scholarships or applying for a job even after coming back from the university. They essentially had a life-long record.”

According to The Justice Center — at the University of Alaska Anchorage — the majority of those charged are convicted.

Under the new bill, instead of a misdemeanor charge, those under the age of 21 caught drinking will face a 500-dollar fine that could be reduced if they complete an alcohol safety action course.

Zara Smelcer runs the Anchorage Juvenile Alcohol Safety Program and works closely with kids charged with MCA’s.

She thinks the change is important, but wishes the legislation had gone a step further

 

“I feel like the educational component being mandatory is actually more important than any fine being paid directly to the court. Because they’re getting the education and treatment to help them make the decision not to do it again until they’re of legal age.”

Before this bill can become law, it must be signed by Governor Bill Walker