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Sunday, September 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 56.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Wisconsin bill would shield underage drinkers from prosecution when seeking emergency help
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Currently, penalties for underage drinking range from $250 to $1,000.
Currently, penalties for underage drinking range from $250 to $1,000.

A Wisconsin Assembly committee will hold a public hearing Thursday on a bipartisan bill that aims to protect underage drinkers from prosecution when seeking emergency medical or law enforcement assistance.

The bill, AB 256, was spearheaded by the UW campus group Associated Students of Madison (ASM) as part of its Responsible Action Campaign, launched in the 2012-13 academic year.

The proposed bill prohibits police from issuing citations, and state universities from handing down disciplinary action, if underage individuals dial 911 to report a medical emergency or potential crime affecting themselves or another underage person. Underage individuals would additionally not be cited if they remain at the emergency scene to answer officials' questions.

ASM's Legislative Affairs Committee developed the campaign in order to encourage university students statewide to dial 911 when necessary. Students who have been drinking are typically reluctant to contact law enforcement for fear of disciplinary action or citations, says Morgan Rae, chair of ASM's legislative affairs committee.

"Wisconsin's young adults should feel comfortable getting emergency assistance if they need it in all situations," Rae says in an email. "This bill will help achieve that."

Currently, penalties for underage drinking range from $250 to $1,000.

The bill also includes penalties for those who might try to avoid a drinking ticket by reporting an emergency situation that does not exist. Those convicted would face a fine between $100 and $600 and up to 90 days in jail.

ASM worked with United Council, a statewide student association, to lobby the bill's co-sponsors, Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) and Rep. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan), says Rae. Seventeen other states have similar laws and many campuses have their own guidelines on underage drinkers who report emergencies.

The Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities meets at 9:30 a.m. in the Capitol, Room 225 Northwest.

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