The Harbinger Online

A Legal Lifeline

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Her body couldn’t handle it. Sophomore Lily Sharp was unresponsive on Halloween night, eyes rolled back in her head. When she had tried to swallow water earlier, her body wouldn’t let her. Panicked, her brother drove her to the hospital.

Hospitalization struck a chord with Sharp. It made her realize the dangers of too much alcohol in her system.

“When I went to the hospital, it definitely opened my eyes to ‘I need to slow down on some things’ and think about the stuff I do before I go out,” Sharp said. “[For] some kids, if they did get sent to the hospital…it would definitely be an eye-opener.”

But, currently, if intoxicated high schoolers call for hospitalization, they can be charged with an MIP and prosecuted.

Bill 133, or “Lifeline bill,” could change that. The bill states that if a minor is consuming alcohol and initiates contact with medical services for medical assistance, they will be granted immunity from prosecution, as long as they cooperate with law enforcement. Immunity would also be granted to any friends who call because they are worried about an intoxicated friend. The bill, however, would not protect everyone at large social gatherings, if, say, the law enforcement arrives and someone asks for medical attention.Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 11.06.41 AM

The bill went through committee hearings on the Senate and the House side, according to Republican State Rep. Stephanie Clayton. It passed in both, after a year of making its way through the legal system. It has now been sent to Brownback, who can either sign it to become a law, let it become law without his signature or veto it. Republican State Rep. Kay Wolf believes it is unlikely Brownback would veto it.

“Even if he did, the Senate and House can override his vote,” Wolf said in an email interview. “However, I am confident it will become law.”

In a poll of 303 East students, 81.8 percent said they approved of the Lifeline bill. Of those, 54.6 percent also felt parents should have to be notified.

“It’s unrealistic to say [underage drinking] is not going to happen,” senior Brittanie Whitney said. “[Bil 133] is really important because students are less likely to call if they are afraid they are going to get prosecuted.”

One call could place everyone at a party, in a car or any large drinking scene in the police department’s spotlight. In a survey of 181 East students, 37 percent said they hesitated to call for medical assistance when they or their friend had become sick from alcohol. Of these, 85 percent ended up not calling at all.

“I’ll be driving everyone and be sober and one of my friends will be bad,” Whitney said. “Like really, really bad. And I’ve contemplated calling before. But then I haven’t, because it puts the rest of my car at risk.”

According to Steve Chick, Training Chief of Consolidated Fire District #2, the bill attempts to put safety, and potentially one’s life, before worry of legal persecution. Chick knows and has been involved in calls where people who have needed help didn’t get that help as quickly as they could have because they were afraid of the legal obligations they would be under.

Drinking ooo booze“I think what this bill does is it offers people who may have been doing something they shouldn’t have been doing the opportunity to do the right thing,” Chick said.

While avoiding hospitalization because of legal ramifications wasn’t exactly the case for Sharp, whose brother took her to the hospital immediately, her nerves about legal repercussions prevented her from opening up about the previous night when talking to the doctors.

“I remember being in the hospital and [the doctors were] telling me ‘tell me what you did, tell me what you drank, you won’t get in trouble,” Sharp said. “I didn’t want to tell them.”

The idea for the bill came from a student committee on the Kansas Board of Regents, which was made up of a group of student body presidents from regional schools, such as Kansas University, Kansas State University and Fort Hays State University. They decided to attempt to pass the bill through Kansas legislature.

“KU specifically did play a large part last year,” KU student body president Jessie Pringle said. “My predecessor testified for the bill in front of the senate last year.”

After being presented to the senate, the bill passed through the house this year on Feb. 5. According to Clayton, representatives across many partisan factions – moderate, liberal, conservative – supported the bill. It then went through the senate one final time to amend the bill to say “2016” instead of “2015”.

The largest opposition for the bill came from the house, where it passed 92-27.

“The opposition was saying that they were concerned that it allowed people who were drinking to not be held accountable for their actions,” said Republican State Rep. Tom Phillips, who supported the bill. “That if you choose to drink, there needs to be a repercussion and some level of accountability and we certainly shouldn’t let people be immune from prosecution.”

Whitney disagrees with the opposition, as she believes it tries to shut down underage drinking in the wrong way.

“If they’re really worried about the fact that teens are drinking, there are other ways that they could approach that problem,” Whitney said. “And other ways that they could go at it from a more proactive stance.”

Rep. John Whitmer attempted to add an amendment in the House that would have, according to Clayton, ended up requiring parental notification if a minor had consumed alcohol underage and called for medical assistance. However, it was rejected.

Phillips explained that he felt the amendment defeated the purpose of the law. It would require minors who tried calling for medical service to eventually go through a “diversion process,” or an eventual legal charge.

“Young people will learn very quickly that with this amendment there will be a [legal] charge,” Phillips said. “And most young people don’t want their parents to know that they were involved in this activity. It would act as a disincentive for people to do this kind of Good Samaritan action.”

However, most of the house was in favor of the bill.

“If we can pass legislation that makes it more likely that lives will be saved then this is something that I will obviously support,” Clayton said.

While some may look at the bill as legislating doing the right thing, the necessity of it can be seen in the undeniable situations high schoolers are going through, according to Pringle.

“Students are drinking in high school,” Pringle said. “It’s just really about that opportunity to save a life when you can.”

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