Bills to take aim at student alcohol abuse and crimes

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

By Lauren Boyer
September 14, 2010
STATE COLLEGE — One by one, officials unbottled pent-up frustration surrounding penalties they say aren’t strong enough to deter the increasing population of excessive drinkers committing alcohol-related crimes in college towns.
At a two-hour hearing Monday, State College officials joined representatives from Indiana and West Chester at the municipal building, echoing similar concerns before the state Senate Majority Policy Committee about the municipal financial burden of alcohol violations.
“There doesn’t seem to be any real solutions, per se,” said committee member Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon. “When you’re dealing with people’s behaviors and actions, it’s difficult to legislate those aspects of their internal being.”
The hearing focused on three bills Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, introduced Friday. The first two bills would increase the maximum fine for underage drinking and public drunkenness to $1,000 and make repeated underage drinking a misdemeanor.
The existing $300 fine for summary offenses, including underage drinking, hasn’t changed since 1972.
The third bill would allow university towns to charge an additional $100 fee for alcohol-related convictions.
Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said State College will spend about $3 million this year addressing drinking issues, including cleaning vomit, urine and feces from sidewalks on an “almost daily basis.”
To enact Corman’s proposed fee, a municipality would need to create an alcohol prevention unit to promote safe drinking practices.
Two-thirds of the 7,000 crimes reported annually in State College are alcohol- related, said Police Chief Tom King. The police department’s budget represents $8.4 million — or 45 percent — of the borough’s total $18.6 million operating budget, he added.
King offered statistics and gave graphic examples of drinking-related incidents reported just last week, including a “20-year-old male found unconscious in apartment building hallway in his underwear lying in vomit.”
King said that, adjusting for inflation, a $300 fine in the 1970s equates to $1,326 today.
In his testimony, Borough Council President Ron Filippelli painted vivid pictures of drunken Penn State students who “scream obscenities, urinate on our properties, vandalize our properties and on occasion, invade our homes.”
Filippelli told senators he doesn’t leave his house in the Highlands neighborhood — home to many fraternities — after 10 p.m.
“It’s like living in two neighborhoods,” Filippelli said. “You live in one neighborhood in the day, and another neighborhood at night.”
Two student leaders, University Park Undergraduate Association President Christian Ragland and Interfraternity Council President Max Wendkos, both touted Corman’s efforts.
But Wendkos questioned whether fines alone can combat the social pressures that lead to drinking.
“I don’t know a single student who would choose not to drink underage because of these fine increases,” he said. “People aren’t aware of what the current fines are.”
Patrick Daugherty, owner of The Tavern restaurant, and Jennifer Zangrilli, manager of State College-based Dante’s restaurants, told Corman to include a provision in his legislation to increase fines to $2,000 for those entering bars with fake identification.
“We do not want to serve minors,” Zangrilli said. “However, the small fines that minors face if caught — it’s a risk they’re willing to take.”
The three proposed bills will likely be sent next to the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Scott Sikorski, Corman’s legislative director.
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