The Wisconsin Assembly committee recently passed a bill that will allow bars and liquor stores to sue underage drinkers for attempting to purchase alcohol from their establishments.
Bars and liquor stores will be able to take underage drinkers to civil court and sue for up to $1000. This is in addition to the citation that an underage drinker would already have to pay. For a first-time offense, the fine is between $250 and $500, and the drinker risks having his or her driver’s license suspended. After being caught four times within one year, the fine can go up $1000. The fee that the bars can now sue is in addition to the citation, which means even a first-time offender could end up paying $1500.
“People aren’t going to go to bars if there are huge consequences like that,” said Steven Olsen, bar manager of Butter’s Brickhause Tavern in Stevens Point. “I sure wouldn’t. Is it worth risking going to bars, having fun and maybe getting a two or three hundred dollar ticket over a whole semester? Most people will say yeah. But if that ticket is like $1500, I don’t think too many people will buy into that one.”
While this could mean changes for some bars in downtown Stevens Point, for others it will not change much. The bartenders at Graffiti’s say that because of their bouncers at the door on the weekends, they never have a problem with underage drinkers trying to get in. Olsen stated that when they catch underage drinkers, they throw them out or call the police.
“Usually, I just have someone that tattles them out,” Olsen said. “I don’t care how nice you are—everybody has someone out there who doesn’t like you. And if you are underage, that person will probably see you and tell on you.”
This new law could change behavior for those students in Stevens Point who make a habit of frequenting the bars downtown. Two underage students from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, both of whom wished to remain anonymous, were interviewed on their experience getting into bars.
“Quite frequently, I’ve just walked in,” one student said. “I’ve always been assumed to be older than I am, so I seldom get questioned. My sophomore year, I had a fake I.D., and it got taken away downtown, but honestly, I’ve gotten closer to being busted at house parties around town than I have at bars.”
The second student interviewed agreed that looking over the age of 21 makes things a lot easier.
“Certain bars are definitely easier to get in. Mainly, if a bar is dead, then I usually don’t get I.D.ed, and if bars are really busy, it’s easy to sneak in.”
The second student said that the risks of being caught are always in the back of your mind. The first student interviewed, however, seemed unconcerned with risks.
“Mathematically, the consequences aren’t worth it, but I never liked math anyway.”
The city police do routine checks to make sure that bars are not serving underage drinkers. About once a year, the police send an underage person into the bars to try and order a drink. Many times, the bartenders are not even aware they are being tested. If the bar tenders request I.D. and don’t serve an underage person, nothing is said. If they are caught serving someone underage, they risk losing their liquor license for a period of time.