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Bills on alcohol hit General Assembly

A bill in the General Assembly would prohibit people ages 18 to 21 from attending nightclubs where alcohol is served — just one of a series of measures related to alcohol and drunk driving under consideration by state lawmakers.

Gabrielle Abbate, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Rhode Island, said she attributes the recent rush of alcohol-related bills to increased pressure on legislators following neighborhood problems with alcohol abuse. According to the national organization's ranking, Rhode Island places in the worst four states for drunk driving.

State Rep. Joy Hearn, D-Barrington and East Providence, said her legislation banning people under 21 from nightclubs zeros in on the underage drinking problem.

"The incidence of underage drinkers in Providence has become very disruptive for clubs," Hearn said. "They come in having drank, they leave, they pose trouble for the police," she added. A Massachusetts law prohibiting individuals under 21 from entering nightclubs has sent many younger club-goers across the border to Rhode Island, magnifying the problem, Hearn said.

The bill's hearing was temporarily postponed March 2, though the legislation has not been withdrawn. The bill has garnered support from state legislators who are interested in addressing underage drinking, Hearn said.

But Lex Rofes '13, does not think this legislation would solve the problem. "Most people go to nightclubs with fake (identifications) that say they're 21," he said.  

Rofes believes the real solution  is to lower the drinking age to 18. "In places where the drinking age is 18, they learn how to be more responsible with drinking," he said.

Another bill — among those heard by the House Judiciary Committee March 2 ­­— would allow the immediate suspension of a driver's license when a person is charged with driving under the influence. "Why would we allow someone to have their license the next day if they've either, one, refused a chemical test or, two, gotten a DUI?" said Rep. Rene Menard, D-Lincoln and Cumberland, the bill's sponsor. There are already 41 states with similar laws, according to Menard. This is the fourth time Menard has proposed the legislation.  

The bill would provide an incentive to stay off the roads after drinking, Rachel Borders '13 said. "People in our community have been deeply affected by incidences that have arisen through drunk driving," she said.

Abbate believes the reason Rhode Island has such problems with alcohol abuse is a lack of leadership. "We just haven't had the gumption," she said.

 While "there is some great proposed DUI legislation,"  none of the bills that have been introduced address all facets of the issue, Abbate said.

Two further bills dealing with alcohol abuse were also heard at the March 2 hearing. The first would require mandatory enhanced probation ­— which involves twice daily breathalyzer tests mandated by the court — for drivers who repeatedly refused chemical tests but tested above the legal alcohol limit. And the second would permit police to conduct a blood or breathalyzer test for alcohol or drugs without first performing the roadside sobriety test. All alcohol-related bills considered at the hearing have been set aside for further study.


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