New bill would encourage underage drinkers to call for help

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- A new bill would make sure an underage drinker wouldn't get in trouble if they're calling for help.

A new bill proposed by state senator Fred Risser will provide sort of an amnesty for college and possibly high school kids who call in for help if their friends or a fellow student's life is in danger.

The idea behind the bill is very simple: life is always a priority.
But the bill is not a completely new thing for many UW campuses.
UW Stout has had a similar bystander intervention program for several years now. In the two years the program has been in place, the university has not seen any major incidents that were alcohol-related.

“Almost every tragedy on a college campus: sexual assaults, harm to other people, property damage, has alcohol as underline factor; we know that to be true,” said UW Stout Dean of Students Joan Thomas.

Senator Fred Risser says the intent of the bill is to prevent those tragedies from happening by giving those students who call for help a way out of a ticket.

“The health, safety and welfare of our young individuals is a primary concern, and we want responsible action when that occurs. And we don't want people frightened away from responsible action because of their own actions,” explained author of the bill Wisconsin Democratic Senator Fred Risser.

“We would focus on a person who needed our help and the victim far more than we would be interested in penalizing the person who made the call,” added Thomas.

But unlike the proposed bill, UW Stout has only guidelines in place, meaning the majority of situations are judged on case-by-case basis, which means that not getting in trouble with the university and the city police is not a guarantee.

“It's (calling for help regardless of your level of intoxication) the right thing to do, and that you wouldn't be unduly penalized. It's not an absolute,” said Thomas.

Stout Senior David Rewis, who is under 21 himself, says knowing an individual won't get into trouble if they're trying to help is a good thing for many different reasons.

“You're not scared to talk to the police if you're intoxicated, you know; you feel like you're not going to get in trouble, it makes you more comfortable to talk to the police and that way you give them more information on what happened,” said Rewis.

Thomas says the bill has good intentions. But she also says it's important to remember that it's just one piece of the puzzle, education and awareness are also key.

Senator Risser says the bill will include both on campus and off campus incidents. The bill was co-authored by a republican in the assembly, and has bipartisan support.

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