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Politics & Government

Legislation decriminalizing underage drinking advances to state Senate floor

Delaware Public Media

A bill released from a state Senate committee Wednesday would make underage drinking a civil offense.

State Sen. Laura Sturgeon (D-Brandywine West) is sponsoring a measure decriminalizing underage alcohol consumption.

Under the measure, minors under age 21 caught with alcohol or found under the influence would get their driver’s license suspended or face a fine. Those with driver’s license would lose it for 30 days on the first offense and between 90 and 180 days for subsequent offenses. Youth without driver’s licenses would be fined $100 for the first violation and between $200 to $500 for additional violations.

“It’s something that many people who’ve gone on to lead successful lives probably did," Sturgeon said. "We know that many many people under 21 drink alcohol and we do think that a civil citation is appropriate.”

She said it’s a way to divert teens from having a criminal record that could hurt their chances of getting a job or into college.

Sturgeon said this is part of the criminal justice overhaul announced in March.

“We don’t want to criminalize people for their youthful indiscretions,” she said.

Sturgeon said she’s aware of some concerns from the city of Newark, which is home of the University of Delaware.

Last year the Princeton Review ranked UD the #1 party school in the country. Newark City Council passed a law in March targeting “super-parties.”

Sturgeon argues the city can still issue civil citations to crack-down on underage drinking.

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