PLYMOUTH — A law passed at the state level in July could protect minors from being arrested for underage drinking.
State senator Jim Merritt (R), who co-authored the bill, told the Pilot News Tuesday that he is traveling around the state to speak to high school and college students about the new law.
“We have found in college towns and in high schools, kids have gravitated toward binge drinking with alcohol, not beer,” explained Merritt. “Many times one or several become almost comatose. These kids are so young that they panic, and don’t call 911 because they don’t want to get in trouble, or they don’t want to get their friends in trouble.”
The Indiana Lifeline Law prevents minors from being arrested for crimes like minor possession or consumption if they call for help for a friend suffering from dangerous levels of intoxication.
Merritt said he was approached by the student body president of Indiana University and other college students about the issue of death caused by underage drinking.
“We can’t put our heads in the sand that underage drinking doesn’t happen,” said Merritt. “I did spend several days considering that we are enticing people to drink (with the law)…but after speaking with several members of the media and others in Indianapolis I decided I wasn’t going to put my head in the sand. It’s a fact of life. Kids drink alcohol.”
During the 2012 legislative session college students spoke out in favor of the bill, said Merritt, and even reached out to legislators. The bill was passed unanimously by both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Now, Merritt is trying to make sure young Hoosiers are aware of the law. The ultimate goal, he said, is to save lives.
“I have two 19-year-olds and a 23-year-old,” said Merritt, adding that issues facing young people are of special importance to him.
He also speaks to young people about synthetic drug use, sexting, and teen pregnancy.
“These are all issues I’ve worked on and focused on through the years,” said Merritt.
Plymouth police chief Jim Cox said that while none of his officers have dealt with the new law yet, he hopes the law will help young people feel more confident about calling for help for their friends.
“There have been instances here in town where people will leave the person until they go into a coma, and by then it’s too late,” said Cox. “I hope this law does help and that people won’t be afraid to call when someone does need help.”