Codey/Turner Bill Creating Taskforce To Curb Underage Drinking Clears First Hurdle

TRENTON – The Senate Education Committee today approved legislation sponsored by Senate President Richard J. Codey and Senate Education Chairwoman Shirley Turner that would create a taskforce to examine best practices to curb the growing problem of underage and binge drinking on college and university campuses.

“After we examined all of the alcohol policies submitted to us by state colleges and universities, it was clear that our schools were all over the map when it comes to addressing this serious issue,” said Sen. Codey (D-Essex). “Underage drinking is a timeless problem, so rather than reinventing the wheel, we should identify the best practices out there, the ones that have really made a difference, so that we can model them at other institutions. At the very least, we hope to find ways to encourage responsibility, but ultimately we hope this undertaking will save lives.”

“This isn’t about crafting a one-size-fits-all alcohol policy for all of New Jersey’s institutions of higher learning, but rather working to set up a basic set of guidelines for campuses to follow when dealing with underage drinking,” said Senator Turner (D-Mercer). “This task force embodies a dynamic approach with stakeholders that cover every area of the issue. Hopefully we can also identify ways to engage parents so that communication can start early at home to address the issue before it becomes a problem.”

Bill S2491 would establish the Task Force on Underage Drinking in Higher Education to be comprised of 20 members including: the Chairman of the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education, the Director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control or their designees; and 18 members to be appointed by the Governor, including college presidents, vice presidents and administrators, municipal and campus law enforcement, college students, alcohol proprietors, a member of the state Division of Addiction Services and representatives from the New Jersey Prevention Network, the New Jersey chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the K-12 education community.

The task force would be required to study and develop recommendations for the most effective means of combating the consumption of alcohol by underage persons in the higher education setting. Specifically, the task force would be required to:

– Prepare an inventory of all existing partnerships in the State in order to assess the current level of collaboration;

– Review promising partnerships in other states that could be effectively modeled in New Jersey;

– Review and compare the student alcohol policies of state institutions of higher education;

– Identify promising and innovative programs, practices, and policies of institutions of higher education in the state which have been implemented to combat underage drinking;

– Examine the use and impact of Good Samaritan policies as they relate to alcohol consumption; and

– Study and review all aspects of State law relating to underage drinking.

The Task Force would be required to issue a final report to the Governor and the Legislature containing its findings and recommendations, including any recommendations for legislation that it deems appropriate, no later than six months after the task force organizes. The bill now heads to the full Senate for approval.

The legislation came about after a lengthy hearing on the issue before the Senate Education Committee in November, sparked in part by the Amethyst Initiative, a group of college presidents that was formed to debate lowering the legal drinking age. Both Senator Codey and Senator Turner, who testified at the hearing, adamantly oppose lowering the legal drinking age, citing a litany of statistics that demonstrate that countless lives have been saved since the drinking age was raised to 21.

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