Lawmakers Look To Toughen Alcohol Liability

This story was written by Shawn Gude, The Daily Iowan
House parties with underage drinkers are the target of current legislation with widespread support in the Iowa Legislature.

If the proposed law is passed and signed, individuals who supply alcohol to those under 21 would be liable for injuries caused by such an intoxicated underage person.

The law widens those liable for injuries -- under current law, only someone who physically hands alcohol to a minor is responsible.

But the effect on Iowa City could be small, Rep. David Jacoby, D-Coralville, said.

Although he said it sounds like a "very good concept," whether it would actually affect the distribution of alcohol to minors or if it just "muddies the water" of liability is difficult to gauge.

Jacoby said he'll have to take a "serious look" at the bill, first answering the most important question: whether the state will be able to effectively implement such a policy.

Sen. Frank Wood, D-Eldridge, originally brought the bill to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Keith Kreiman, D-Bloomfield, after two of his constituents lobbied for such a bill. The constituents, a father and mother who lost their daughter in November 2007 in an accident involving a drunk driver, were adamant about holding adults responsible for those intoxicated on their property.

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, acknowledged the difficulty of enforcing the law and deterring those who supply minors with a bottle of Bud Light or a shot of Johnny Walker, saying that the bill may not catch the most "egregious" offenders.

Still, he said, it's essential to at least have a law on the books, even if it doesn't prevent or deter all offenders.

"It just sends a message," said Dvorsky, who sits on the Senate Judicial Committee, which originally approved the legislation. "This will just provide a warning."

He also pointed out the difficulty of proving intent. The bill states that individuals are liable only if "they deliberately and knowingly make available a receptacle containing beer, wine, or intoxicating liquor to an underage person," a provision that provides wiggle room for alleged offenders and makes it more difficult to enforce.

Still, judging by the bipartisan unanimous support the measure garnered in the Senate, the proposal has a good shot of getting approved in the House.

Passed last week in the Senate 43-0, SF 2343 is now in a House Judiciary subcommittee.

In order to survive the second funnel-week deadline Friday, the bill must be passed out of committee.
© 2008 The Daily Iowan via U-WIRE