Those under 21 who call for medical help for a drunk friend — and the friend — won’t face minor-in-possession-of-alcohol charges under a bill signed by Gov. Jay Inslee this week.
The law, approved by the Legislature last month, is meant to encourage minors to call 911 by removing the fear of prosecution. It follows a similar law for drug overdoses passed in 2010.
By expanding the law to cover alcohol, Washington has joined a growing list of states that have embraced the policy, sometimes over stark opposition due to fears it could encourage underage drinking.
Twelve states have now passed alcohol “good Samaritan” laws since Colorado approved the first one in 2005, according to The Medical Amnesty Initiative, a national nonprofit established last year to boost the policy.
Six other states are in the process of approving a version of the policy, said initiative founder Aaron Letzeiser, a 23-year-old recent Michigan State University graduate who got passionate about the idea in college.
“We don’t support underage drinking, but unfortunately it’s something that’s never going to be at zero,” Letzeiser said. “This is a policy that can really help to save young lives.”
The initiative group actively pushed the proposal in Washington, Letzeiser said.
But there also were other factors that gave the state’s version momentum.
One is the 2010 drug law, which lawmakers have described as a success.
And then there are the recent alcohol-poisoning deaths at state universities.
During the bill-signing ceremony, Inslee referenced Kenny Hummel, an 18-year-old Washington State University freshman who died in October after being found unconscious in a dorm room he was visiting.
His blood-alcohol level was 0.4 percent — five times the legal limit.
Inslee said Hummel’s parents, Lisa and Bill, helped to push the bill.
“The tragic death of their son Kenny moved them to seek this important legislation to offer protection to those who seek vitally important medical assistance,” the governor said. “I want to thank you for your family’s leadership. It’s going to do a lot for other families.”
More than 2,100 underage drinkers were hospitalized in Washington state in 2010, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Networking.
House Bill 1404 was sponsored by state Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds. It received support in public hearings from the Liquor Control Board, the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, among other groups.
The bill passed the state House 72-24 and the state Senate 44-3.
In both cases, opposition came primarily from Republicans.
“Minor consumption of alcohol is illegal,” said state Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick. “Now we’re going to excuse it and give them a license to do this? I’m not understanding why we would do that.”
Liias said during the bill’s last public hearing that the reason is to prevent turning “one tragedy of binge drinking into another tragedy of losing a life.”
“We want young people to know that when they call 911, the only thing that’s going to come is help,” he said. “Not trouble.”