Bill would protect good Samaritans under 21

By Emma OckermanTHE COLUMBUS DISPATCH  •  Saturday June 6, 2015 5:37 AM

If an underage drinker is caught red-handed, it’s sometimes because they’re the one that called police in the first place.

State lawmakers have introduced a bill that would grant immunity to underage drinkers who contact police to request medical assistance or to report a crime — so long as they do so in good faith and provide their real name.

“A young man who was a student at Ohio State knew someone that had a tragic incident with alcohol and started looking at what laws are out there (to protect students),” Rep. Michael Stinziano, D-Columbus, a sponsor of House Bill 201, said. “Indiana had a medical amnesty bill, and he asked ‘Why don’t we have this?’  ”

Many universities already have their own version of an “amnesty” or “Good Samaritan” policy, including Ohio State University and Ohio University, that partially protects students who report medical emergencies due to underage drinking while under the influence themselves. OSU’s alcohol and drug policy says most bystanders won’t face disciplinary action when reporting another student’s medical emergency, though there’s room for discretion.

But there’s a catch: As soon as a student steps off campus, they’re subject to receiving a citation for the same crime — often a first-degree misdemeanor worth up to $1,000 in fines and six months in jail.

“You wouldn’t get charged for being a good Samaritan depending what side of the street you’re on,” Stinziano said of his proposal.

The bill was introduced in early May and is co-sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Dever, R-Cincinnati.

Stinziano has introduced similar legislation before with bipartisan sponsorship but had a difficult time getting it through the House. There are 21 states and the District of Columbia with similar legislation on their books.

Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said he’s not opposed to a medical-amnesty law “in theory,” though he thinks the “devil is in the details.”

He worries some students might use the excuse that they were just about to call the police for a medical emergency before their arrest for underage consumption. He added that his department rarely issues citations in a severe medical emergency.

“We have much better things to do than to charge people who are in a medical emergency,” Pyle said. “(The bill) takes away discretion, and that’s why I have some concerns with it.”