A two-year old law that sets aside underage drinking charges in Idaho during emergency medical situations might soon expire.
The law was originally lobbied for by the Associated Students of the University of Idaho. Now, students are back at the legislature, this time working to keep it.
First passed as House Bill 521. The medical amnesty policy had unanimous support in the Idaho State Senate and House of Representatives. However, the law as passed has a catch – a sunset clause giving the law an expiration date in the summer of 2019 unless the policy is amended.
Clayton King, ASUI’s lobbyist to the state legislature in Boise, has been working to gather support for making medical amnesty permanent. Rep. Caroline Troy, R-District 5, sponsored the original bill in the House and said she will sponsor this bill. King said Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-District 11, who sponsored the original bill in the Senate, will return as sponsor. King said he has found four co-sponsors in the Senate and two in the House.
King and Troy have yet to introduce a bill. When they do, King said the bill will amend house rules to remove the record of the sunset clause happening instead of directly amending the law. The last day to introduce a bill for a hearing is Feb. 22. King said he has also been talking with legislators who either are in opposition or have doubts about the bill.
“A few of them, after hearing what I have to say about it, they seemed much more inclined to hear more about it,” King said. “None of them have affirmed they will vote for it, but they seemed much more open to more information. I can see some of them switching given enough time.”
To help, ASUI has a petition on Change.org that has received more than 750 signatures.
Giving amnesty to those in need of medical attention but who drink under age is meant not to reduce the number of minor in possession and minor in consumption citations, but to increase the number of people calling for help.
“My policy is focused on the students and not the police force,” Troy said. “I want to encourage students not to make that a barrier.”
The law has been in effect since the summer of 2016, but Cpl. Casey Green with the Moscow Police Department’s campus division said officers in the department already had discretion in possession and consumption situations and would typically let people off the hook in an emergency.
“Even before amnesty, we responded with some level of compassion. The calls we’ve encountered, we tend to err on the side of the student or the person in need of medical care,” Green said. “Even if someone is found not because of a call, we still apply medical amnesty. We find people unconscious, even if it isn’t necessarily their friend calling. There have been incidents, that are fewer, where people who have been found have received citations.”
He said he has not encountered any situations in which he has applied medical amnesty where he wouldn’t have let the person off without a citation before.
“What it’s intended for is the person who needs help gets help faster,” Green said. “By the time they’re in need of medical amnesty, they’re not a problem anymore.”
Nishant Mohan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @NishantRMohan