Illinois Could Offer Amnesty to Underage Drinkers Who Call 911

By McCarton Ackerman 07/09/15

The bill awaits Gov. Bruce Rauner's signature and could go into effect on January 1.

passed out teens booze.jpg

Illinois could soon join about two dozen other states in offering amnesty to underage drinkers across the state who call 911 for medical help.

State legislators have approved the proposal, which was first submitted in February, and a final decision on the bill now lies with Gov. Bruce Rauner. He will have 60 days to make a decision and if approved, the bill would go into effect starting January 1 of next year.

It would extend amnesty to the person who called 911 and up to two others who stay with the victim until medical help can arrive. Some universities throughout the country have already adopted similar policies.

The need for such a bill came into conversation after the tragic death of David Bogenberger, a 19-year-old freshman at Northern Illinois University. He died during a fraternity hazing ritual in 2012 during which he and other pledges drank several small glasses of vodka in rapid succession. Fraternity members decided against calling for medical help and told others not to do so.

“The point of the bill is for some good person to do the right thing, and that someone’s son or daughter doesn’t face the ultimate consequence for drinking too much, which we know could be death,” said state Rep. Scott Drury (D), who created the proposal.

Perhaps surprisingly, 34 people voted against the proposal. State Rep. Bob Pritchard (R) said that while he wanted underage drinkers in dire situations to receive medical care, he also believed that “it’s the age-old problem ... we create laws and we choose not to enforce them.”

A study released by Cornell University in 2006 found that students at universities with medical amnesty policies were more likely to call for help for someone who was dangerously intoxicated. But Ruth Bogenberger, the mother of David, believes that her son’s death is a symptom of a much bigger problem.

“I don’t think [alcohol poisoning] is being under-reported because people are afraid of being prosecuted for it,” she said. “I think in some cases they are, but I think it’s under-reported because they don’t understand the dangers.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that 57 people in Illinois died last year from alcohol poisoning, but they acknowledged that cases are often under-reported nationally.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.