The General Assembly passed a bill last week to stiffen penalties for people 18 to 21 who refuse to leave a liquor store at the request of the owner.
The bill, HB2459/SB2544, was originally much more strict and required that anyone under the age of 21 be accompanied by someone over the drinking age. It was amended to its current form.
“A person may be charged with a criminal trespass if the person is between 18 and 21 years, visibly intoxicated, or otherwise disruptive, once the owner of a retail package store has asked the person to leave and the person remains,” said Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson, sponsor of the bill.
The necessity of the bill was questioned by Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, as this would already be illegal under current Tennessee law.
“This is just clarifying the law that’s already on the books, and we’re putting this in the code that deals with alcohol, that deals with package stores,” Eldridge said.
According to Eldridge, the state has had an underage drinking problem for many years, and in 2010, Tennessee citizens spent more than $1.3 billion dealing with this problem.
The source for Eldridge’s claims is a report on underage drinking in Tennessee by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, a group that advocates stricter drug and alcohol laws. According to the report, the costs to citizens of Tennessee is divided as follows: $88 million for “medical costs,” $452 million for “work lost costs” and $740 million for “pain and suffering costs.”
Rep. Joe Towns Jr., D-Memphis, voiced skepticism at the figures cited in the study — and the ability of the law to address any the received problem of 18-21-year-olds drinking.
“I just have concerns when we so easily criminalize these young people, because when you’re 18, 19 years old, you do a lot of silly stuff,” said Towns. “And I don’t think we should so easily criminalize the behaviors of our college students or of our kids who are not yet matured in mind, but legally they’re 18 to 21 years old.”