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Bill may prevent MIP for good samaritans

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File Photo Illustration / The Daily Wildcat

PHOENIX — An Arizona lawmaker has introduced a bill to protect underage drinkers from prosecution if they call for medical assistance for themselves or someone else.

Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, said she is sponsoring the bill, known as Senate Bill 1190, because many young people, often college students, drink alcohol, and they shouldn’t be punished for trying to get help should a night of drinking turn sour.

“At 18 and 20, they should be able to make a responsible decision,” Ward said, “but they don’t always, and there’s a lot of peer pressure at that age. I don’t want to punish them for a mistake they made that could haunt them for the rest of their life.”

The bill grants anyone under the age of 21 immunity from prosecution if they call for medical or law enforcement assistance and are cooperative with responders. If they call concerning assistance for someone else, they would have to remain with that person until help arrives.

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Ward, a physician, knows these types of situations well from working in hospital emergency departments. She said sometimes people, usually between the ages of 18 and 20, show up to the emergency room with a Post-it note on them saying the person has been drinking.

“If a friend could call 911 without fearing for their own future, I think it will make a big difference,” Ward said.

Twenty-one states have passed similar legislation, known as Medical Amnesty, 911 Lifeline or 911 Good Samaritan laws, and many more have bills up for consideration this year, said Aaron Letzeiser, executive director of the Medical Amnesty Initiative. He works with states on passing such legislation.

“For many, this is the first run-in they might have with the law,” Letzeiser said, “so they’re worried about getting in trouble with their school or with their parents.”

Underage drinkers aren’t going out intending to get drunk to the point of alcohol poisoning, Letzeiser added.

“They’re drinking because sometimes it’s part of the collegiate culture,” he said.

It’s no secret that Arizona’s schools have a reputation for partying. Last year, Playboy ranked the UA fourth on its list of top party schools. 

Most officers would not cite an underage drinker if that person called for help for someone else, but it’s still up to each individual officer, said Officer Jake Brady, a spokesman for the Northern Arizona University Police Department.

The University of Arizona Police Department reported 730 liquor law violations and 395 liquor law arrests in 2013. No data is available on whether the person cited called for help before.

The bill is not only meant for people who need medical assistance for alcohol consumption, Ward said. It is also intended for situations of sexual assault or if someone fears for their own safety.

“If there’s a girl and she’s been at a party and had a drink or two and she’s walking home … and feels unsafe,” Ward said, “she should be able to call 911 and get police assistance without worrying that she’s going to get a ticket.”

No hearing has yet been scheduled for the bill.


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