The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Editorials

April 1, 2013

Our View: Amnesty benefits outweigh injustices

Mankato has too often in recent years witnessed the tragic deaths of young people who drank too much alcohol.

A proposed law at the Capitol would help avert some tragedies by allowing underage drinkers to seek medical help for themselves or friends who may be in danger from alcohol consumption.

Under the “medical amnesty” bill, someone underage who seeks emergency medical help for themselves or a friend would not face charges of underage drinking.

Mankato Sen. Kathy Sheran and Good Thunder Rep. Tony Cornish are co-sponsors of the bill and it has qualified support from Mankato’s Public Safety Director Todd Miller.

But there are skeptics, including a former Mankato public safety director who now works for a state sheriff’s group. They argue the law could create loopholes that underage drinkers would try to use to avoid prosecution, such as claiming they need medical help after an officer shows up to bust an underage party.

Their concerns have merit. That’s why the legislation needs to be carefully crafted to make clear the amnesty only counts if an underage drinker initiates a call for help before they face a police officer.

The bill could be tweaked in other ways, perhaps limiting how many times someone can invoke such amnesty.

We’d also like to see — as Minnesota State University representatives suggest — more of an educational aspect tied to the law. (MSU has worked to teach students to recognize the signs that a friend may be facing serious risks from an alcohol overdose.)

Yes, it’s likely that some will try to use such a law as a loophole and some may even succeed. But if written well, the courts should be able to sort out most spurious amnesty claims.

And if some get out of a misdemeanor ticket because the law creates some loophole, the benefits of the law still far outweigh that relatively minor injustice. 

Young people who realize too much drinking is putting them or a friend at grave risk have a difficult time seeking emergency help as they fear getting in trouble or getting a friend in trouble.

The medical amnesty law, along with more education, could go a long way in saving lives. 

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