Drinking bill meets with protest

By Dorothea Hunter

The Student Government of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC SG) is protesting a proposed revision to the Illinois Vehicle Code that they claim would infringe upon the constitutional rights of minors. The revision would allow the state to suspend or revoke an underage offender’s driver’s license without a hearing if caught buying, attempting to buy, or consuming alcohol.

“House Bill 5941 is not only a clear breach of a young person’s right to a fair trial, but it has further-reaching implications that go even so far as age discrimination,” said Andrew Erskine, chair of governmental affairs for the Illinois Student Government.

The Illinois House of Representatives unanimously passed House Bill 5941 on April 2; it is currently in the state’s Senate Rules Committee. The bill is rapidly gaining support there as well.

“I think it’s worth a try,” Representative Tom Berns, R-Urbana told The Daily Illini. “It sends the message that if you do that, you’re going to have your license revoked.”

On April 23, a group of students went to the state capital in Springfield to lobby against the passage of the bill. The UIUC SG is sponsoring a school-wide petition against the bill. Protestors say that the state is trying to control the numbers of underage drinkers by imposing severe punishments, but that the bill is a direct violation of the right to due process as stated in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the 14th Amendment of the Illinois state constitution. Most think that the suspension of driver’s licenses is less lenient than fines and criminal penalties, but argue that it will lay too harsh a burden on students whose licenses are revoked — especially ones that live on large campuses where cars are essential to everyday student life.

As a result, protestors fear that the amendment will encourage students to avoid bars and similarly-controlled drinking atmospheres and push them into situations outside the reach of authorities.

“Although this bill attempts to deter underage drinking and promote alcohol safety, it will in fact increase unsafe drinking at locations that are not properly supervised,” said Brian Colgan, Chief of Staff for Illinois Student Government.

The amendment is another step in the state’s battle against underage drinking, which has resulted in high-profile incidents at Urbana-Champaign. Last March, city and state police raided three campus-area bars the day after St. Patrick’s Day and arrested 16 underage drinkers. Student Government representatives, however, say that the state’s focus on punitive measures and not health awareness put minors at risk.

“Underage people are going to drink no matter what the consequences,” said J.D. Grom, Director of Public Relations for the UIUC SG. “By creating a stiffer punishment the state government is decreasing the chances of underage people who need medical assistance from acquiring help.”