Underage Alcohol Purchasing Consequences Intensify

Vanessa Vincent vvinc350@uwsp.edu

Individuals under the legal drinking age caught trying to buy alcohol will have to pay considerable restitution if Governor Scott Walker signs off on the Brown Jug bill.

With this new bill, alcohol retailers can sue any minor attempting to buy drinks from them for up to $1000, not including additional court fees.

Store owners will be requested by law enforcement to report underage individuals attempting to buy alcohol from their property. Law enforcement will then determine whether to present the violators with a ticket. If the ticket is issued, the district attorney will decide how they should press charges according to Senate Bill 46.

The fine for a first offence of possessing alcohol is $263.50. The fine goes up with each offence, reaching $767.50 by the fourth offence. If the Brown Jug bill passes, these fines will be paid in addition to the money a liquor retailer might sue for.

The bill was presented by Senator Rick Grudex and was passed by the state assembly last May. The bill recently passed through the state Senate and is currently awaiting Walker’s signature to become official.

The Tavern League of Wisconsin was among the first to pursue the bill. Scott Strenger, spokesman for the Tavern League, thinks thatintroducing the bill will deter under agers from buying alcohol with fake IDs because of the severity of the consequences for being caught.

“Alaska demonstrated that the overall use of fake IDs decreased drastically,” Strenger said. “I don’t think underage individuals are that worried about getting a ticket from the police. They would be more fearful if a bar owner could go after them, as this bill allows.”

The alcohol policy coordinator for the University of Wisconsin, Julia Sherman, had a different viewpoint.

“An alcohol wholesaler only gets fined $500, where if an under ager is caught trying to buy from the vendor, they receive the $1000 fine,” said Sherman. “The incentive isn’t present. I do not believe the Jug Brown Bill will be a benefit to Wisconsin, it will only improve a retailer’s bottom line.”

There is also a dispute about the consequences between a retailer getting caught selling to underage individuals and when someone underage is caught buying from the retailer.

Senator Rick Grudex’s proposal was based off of a similar bill in Alaska. Sherman has doubts about the bill will be as effective in Wis.

“The two states have very different ways of distributing the $1000 fine,” Sherman said. “In Wisconsin the money goes directly to the retailer, however in Alaska it is split amongst the retailer, a charity and non-profitprogram, each receives one third of the total amount.”

After Alaska passed the bill, there was a decrease in attempts from under agers to buy alcohol. However, at the time of the assessment there was a tax increase on alcohol as well as aggressive compliance checks from Alaska’s board of control. It is unclear if the reduction is due to the bill or to the other factors.

Jase Hintz, a bartender for local Stevens Point bar Big Todd’s, stated how he felt this law would impact communities.

“I don’t think the bill will work,” Hintz said. ”I do think it will scare the honest person away from trying to buy, but it won’t stop most people who usually use their fake IDs. They will remain doing what they always have.”

There is also a fine in Wisconsin for the crime of making or selling fake IDs. It is a felony that could be up to $10,000 in fines and three years in prison, according to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

Taylor Welcing, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, shared her thoughts on the bill.

“I don’t think that the people who usually use their fake IDs will stop using them just because the fine increased,” Welcing said. “They will still find a way to get alcohol, and it probably isn’t that big of a deal to them because they‘ve gotten away with it for so long.” 

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