The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 31, 2013

'Medical amnesty' bill bill raises police eyebrows

— Certain underage drinkers would have immunity from citations for minor consumption if they are seeking medical attention for a drunk companion under legislation moving forward in the Minnesota House and Senate.

The “medical amnesty” bill is a top priority of Minnesota student organizations who believe it could lead to quicker calls to 911 when someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning or has sustained injuries or has been sexually assault. The legislation survived committee deadlines at the state Capitol despite some concern from Minnesota sheriffs and at least one prosecutor.

Mankato’s history of underage drinking deaths came up in one House hearing on the legislation last month after former Mankato Director of Public Safety Jim Franklin, now the executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs Association, expressed doubts about the bill.

“This does start us down a slippery slope of where do we go next in sanctioning what is criminal behavior,” said Franklin, who was Mankato police chief for seven years.

The House bill makes a person immune from a citation for underage drinking, which is a misdemeanor typically carrying a fine of about $100, if the person calls 911 to report that he or she or another person is in immediate need of medical assistance. The person receiving the medical assistance is also immune from underage drinking citations.

Up to two other underage drinkers can also gain immunity if they remain on the scene to assist until help arrives and give their names and cooperate with responding officers.

Franklin worried that young drinkers would attempt to abuse the proposed law when an officer arrives to bust up a party. He also wondered if underage drinkers who are stopped in a vehicle could claim they were taking one of the occupants to the emergency room.

Rep. John Lesch, a Democrat and St. Paul city prosecutor, had similar concerns.

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