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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published February 20 2013

North Dakota Legislature: Bill adds minimum penalty for underage drinking

BISMARCK – Lawmakers hope to deter a culture in the state that some believe perpetuates drinking – especially underage drinking – in North Dakota.

They hope to do so with House Bill 1458, which would create minimum mandatory penalties for individuals who supply alcohol to a minor, and minors who use fake identification.

The House chamber sent the bill to the Senate by a 61-33 vote Wednesday.

Current law states maximum sentences, which judges have the ability to decrease. The bill would require a judge to impose the minimum penalty plus any others they may see fit. The bill does not change the maximum penalties.

Under the bill, a first offense for a minor caught with a fake ID would be a Class B misdemeanor carrying a $500 fine and 40 hours of community service. It is currently punishable with a maximum 30 days in jail, $1,000 fine, or both.

A second offense would be a Class A misdemeanor, with a $1,000 fine and 80 hours of community service. It is currently a one year jail sentence, a $2,000 fine, or both, A third or subsequent offense would be the current Class C felony carrying a five-year jail sentence, $5,000 fine, or both.

A person who is 21 or older caught delivering to a minor would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor for the first and second offenses. However, the first offense would carry a minimum $500 fine and 40 hours of community service, and a second offense would be a $1,000 fine and 80 hours community service. A third offense would be a Class C felony carrying a $5,000 fine, five years in prison, or both.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Chuck Damschen, R-Hampden, said the problem the state faces is the societal acceptance of allowing underage people to break the law and use alcohol.

“If a penalty for breaking the law doesn’t cause the lawbreaker some inconvenience, there really isn’t much purpose in the penalty,” he said during floor debate Wednesday.

Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, called it a “one-size fits all bill” that makes the Legislature impede the judicial system, and requires a judge to follow state law rather than determine what punishment fits the crime.

“This would be setting mandatory minimums. We’ve done it in the past, and we went away from them,” Delzer said. “They don’t always work because every situation and person is not the same.”

Underage drinking has long been an issue for college campuses. Last month, both the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team and the North Dakota State University women’s softball team had players charged with supplying alcohol to underage teammates.

Rep. Joe Heilman, R-Fargo, said problems relative to underage drinking costs the state about $168 million per year.

He said while other alternatives for minors are in place, they don’t seem to be working. The bill would crack down on the supply line of alcohol to youth.

“Were trying to say, if you contribute, better think think twice about doing it again, but think hard about doing it the first time,” Heilman said. “It’s not a real exciting penalty if you do get it.”

Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, opposed the idea, saying that when government tries to make behavioral modifications with society, the issues still persists but is “pushed underground” and out of site.

He illustrated his point by highlighting what prohibition did to alcohol use, which increased bootlegging and created secret ways to distribute and consume alcohol.

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