Medical amnesty gets a look

Legislators will take up a bill to give legal protection to underage drinkers.

by Cody Nelson

A bill that would provide legal immunity for underage drinkers seeking medical care will be heard in two legislative committees Tuesday.

The medical amnesty measure would legally protect underage drinkers from punishment if they sought medical attention for themselves or others.

Several other states have passed medical amnesty laws, and Michigan State University’s student government sponsored its state law.

Minnesota students have pushed the issue for years, but it has only gained traction this session with bipartisan support.

Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, is a co-author of the bill and said it has “very good support for passage.”

Kahn said the bill represents a change in attitudes.

“We’re dealing with the problem instead of the punishment,” Kahn said.

Students will testify in support of the bill at Tuesday’s hearings, said Matt Forstie, chairman of the Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition, which has been lobbying for medical amnesty legislation this session.

The University Student Legal Services Board of Directors is among those supporting the measure.

Abby Huebsch, a member of the student-run board, said it has taken an “active role” in supporting medical amnesty because of the value it can provide for students.

She said USLS has seen cases where students could’ve benefited from medical amnesty.

“We see it in our offices and we don’t want to have any of the barriers to justice limited,” she said.

Current legislative committee members are generally supportive of medical amnesty legislation, Forstie said.

“As this is gaining traction, more members are learning about it,” he said. “They’re putting their names on the bill because they think it’s a good idea.”

Four new co-authors were added to the House version of the bill Monday.

Kahn said the bill has co-authors “from all ends of the spectrum.” She said the variety and amount of co-authors give medical amnesty a better chance of passing.

Minnesota Student Association President Taylor Williams said he has been working for medical amnesty laws for more than a year.

Kahn said she thinks this is the first time one has been heard in committee.

The bill has received support from city leaders, police officers and dozens of legislators, Williams said.

Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, and Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, are chief authors of the House and Senate bills.

They will be heard in the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.