New Minnesota law promotes safety in underage drinking cases

Underage drinkers in Minnesota can no longer be charged with a crime if they attempt to seek medical help as part of a new medical amnesty law which went into effect Aug. 1.

The bill, which passed through the legislature and was signed into law in late May, effectively provides protections to underage drinkers that attempt to either seek medical attention or obtain medical assistance for a friend that has been drinking.

A minor may call 911 in “an immediate health or safety concern,” according to the text of the bill, to receive the immunity from citation. The caller must remain on the scene until assistance arrives and be cooperative with authorities in order to be granted amnesty. Those guidelines also apply to the person who receives medical assistance, if not the same person; they will also be immune from prosecution.

The immunity can also be extended to one or two people assisting the person making contact with emergency personnel, so up to four people can receive immunity per incident.

Macalester already has an existing “Good Samaritan Policy,” where the college will shy away from issuing conduct violations if a student takes responsibility and seeks help for a student in need, even if college policies were violated.

“Our first priority is always student safety and well-being,” said Director of Campus Life Keith Edwards. “Mac students have a great track record of reaching out to Res Life staff when they are worried about a friend. This has helped us keep people safe and get medical attention when that is needed. It has not been our practice to charge friends who are concerned about someone in danger with conduct violations.”

Dean of Students Jim Hoppe was supportive of the bill’s passage and pleased that Macalester’s policy of emphasizing safety over punishment was now being echoed on a greater, statewide level.

“If you take responsibility to seek help, you can’t be charged with violating the alcohol policy,” Hoppe said.
According to Hoppe, Macalester’s alcohol policy was reoriented toward keeping students safe and secure roughly six or seven years ago. This was tied to a strong drop in reports of alcohol-related incidents that his office received.
Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL), whose district includes Macalester, voted for the bill, citing its emphasis on increased health and safety of students and other underage drinkers.

“It would be great if we lived in a world where people not of legal age didn’t consume alcohol, but that’s not how the world works,” Murphy said. “[The law] protects the health and safety of students, and if they choose to consume alcohol, and they overconsume and need physical help, they can get it. It puts their health first … that should be our goal.”

The bill was incredibly popular in the Minnesota Legislature; it passed by landslide votes of 124-8 in the House and 51-10 in the Senate.

Sen. Dick Cohen (DFL), who represents Macalester’s district in the Senate, also voted for the bill.

MCSG President Kai Wilson ’13 was supportive of the law, also citing its increased emphasis on student health and support.

“I don’t see this as a cop-out that promotes further student drinking,” he said. “Macalester student[s] that are put in the position to call the police are in need of critical support, and they should not be punished for looking out for their health.”

Other students voiced their approval of the law.

“The main issue when you’re in a situation like that is getting someone to the hospital, and I feel like a lot of people were too afraid to call an ambulance or seek help because they didn’t want to get in trouble,” said Jackie Perman ’16, “Because of this, now they can do the most important thing that they need to do, which is get help.”

Andy Kaesermann ’16, a Resident Assistant in Doty Hall, was also supportive of the law.

“It’s very beneficial, especially considering safety is our priority within residential life,” he said. “It’s the safety of students and making sure their well-being is promoted, and passing this bill, I think, is very essential to that.”

Because the bill was passed and the law went into effect over the summer, some are concerned that students will not know about the immunity the law provides.

To prevent this, Macalester is planning on increasing awareness of the law’s existence through many different routes. Hoppe is planning on discussing it in both his weekly newsletter to first-year students and his office’s off-campus newsletter. He also mentioned potential campaigns by Residential Life and the Health and Wellness Center to increase knowledge of the bill.

In addition to Minnesota, 16 other states and the District of Columbia have some form of medical amnesty laws in place, and many other states are considering them.

“I definitely think more and more states are considering them in an effort to protect the health and well-being of students and young people,” Murphy said.