With binge-drinking on the rise statewide, Wisconsin legislators and school administrators are pushing for a bill that would give students immunity from criminal charges for calling the police or first responders for another intoxicated person.
Under the bill, the individual who calls emergency personal may not be prosecuted for drinking or possessing alcohol or a controlled substance under the same circumstances as the intoxicated person needing medical attention.
The bill is scheduled for a public hearing Tuesday in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
According to a report from the United Council of University of Wisconsin Students, Wisconsin has the highest binge-drinking rate in the United States. The report said Wisconsin had 1,114 alcohol related deaths in 2008, with an average of 22 percent of those deaths being people between the ages of 18 and 25 years of age.
UW Police Department spokesperson Marc Lovicott said the bill would create protections for the intoxicated individual as well as the individual summoning police.
A statement from UW said 65 percent of UW students report they are binge drinkers. A Harvard Public Health national survey also found UW students have a drinking rate above the average for large public schools, at 50.4 percent versus 44 percent of total students.
Lovicott said UWPD opposes the bill because of their duties as police.He said the department believes there are already procedures in place to protect individuals who call on the police for help with an overly intoxicated friend.
“The UWPD signed off on the Responsible Action Guidelines, that is if an individual believes that another person needs medical attention they can call the UW Police with a sort of immunity,” Lovicott said. “There are procedures in place to protect the caller from citation.”
He said the problem UWPD has with the bill centers on amnesty for the intoxicated individual because the individual did break the law, so penalties must be enforced.
Dylan Jambrek, government relations director for United Council, said in a statement the bill would help save lives and solve crimes.
“This bill is about keeping our young people alive, too often too many young people refrain from reaching out in life or death situations,” Jambrek said.
Miri Francis, a UW-Eau Claire member of the United Council of UW Students, said the culture of students calling the police needs to change.
“Instead of a culture where students are afraid to pick up the phone and dial 911 in an emergency, we want a culture where students do not hesitate to make the call when a friend is in need,” Francis said.