JUNEAU (AP) -- The House passed an underage drinking bill Saturday that would replace a law that was invalidated by the Alaska Supreme Court.
Under the previous law underage drinking was a violation -- not a crime -- and the punishment included losing one's license to drive. The Supreme Court ruled in December that taking minors' drivers' licenses without giving them a jury trial violated their rights to due process.
Because of the cost of providing jury trials to all underage drinkers, that part of the law hasn't been enforced since the ruling.
''Minors now go virtually unpunished for possessing or consuming alcohol,'' said Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage. They can be fined a maximum of $300 and usually are fined just $100, which he doesn't see as a sufficient deterrent.
The Judiciary Committee Rokeberg leads sponsored a bill to beef up the penalties.
Under House Bill 179 minors caught drinking would be fined $200-$600 for their first offense and be required to attend classes on alcohol. They wouldn't lose their license on the first offense, so the state would avoid the cost of a jury trial.
Those caught twice would lose their license for three months, so the state would have to provide them a trial. They would also be subject to $500-$1,000 fines and have to complete 48 hours of community work service.
The penalty for a third offense would be a six-month license suspension, 96 hours of work service and a $1,000 fine.
Under the bill, a judge could require any underage drinker to go to an alcohol screening program and follow the program recommendations, which might include treatment. They would also be placed on probation for a year or until they are 21 years old, whichever is later.
Rokeberg said it's important to treat underage drinking seriously because statistics show the earlier people start drinking, the more likely they are to have problems with alcohol later on.
The bill passed the House 37-2, with Reps. Drew Scalzi, R-Homer, and John Davies, D-Fairbanks voting no.
The measure now goes to the Senate.
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