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Higher Fines Alone Won't Curb Underage Drinking

By Tricia Pursell
The Daily Item

September 22, 2010

A state senator wants to decrease underage drinking by increasing fines.

But university and borough officials in the Valley don’t think a higher fine in itself would make much difference.

State Sen. Jake Corman (R-Benner Township, Centre County) introduced three bills Friday that would increase the maximum fine for underage drinking and public drunkenness to $1,000, make repeated underage drinking a misdemeanor, and would allow university towns to charge an additional $100 fee for alcohol-related convictions.

The existing fine for underage drinking and other summary offenses is $300 — an amount set in 1972.

“I don’t know how bigger fines will deter high-risk drinking,” said Cheryl Stumpf, a counselor and outreach coordinator at Susquehanna University, in Selinsgrove.

Agreeing with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Stumpf said to be effective, programs must have three components — prevention and intervention engaging individuals, campus, and community.

Susquehanna University, as most universities, has a problem with student drinking, Stumpf said.

However, she said, the school is working to be more proactive, and recently won a grant from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board that will go toward building its formal Peer Education program.

Bucknell University, in Lewisburg, is using its first PLCB grant, in the amount of $15,000 this year, for a computer program called Alcohol EDU, which first-year students are required to begin even before they step foot on campus.

The university also requires first-year students to attend a Transitions to College class, which includes alcohol education.

“We’re certainly not unique when it comes to the issue of alcohol abuse by some of our college students,” said Tracy Shaynak, coordinator of the class at Bucknell.

She understands why Corman would believe fines might help.

“But,” she said, “it’s only a piece of the puzzle.”

Bucknell, she said, continues to look for the right equation of resources and initiatives to decrease the problem.

“It’s been around for a very long time,” she said of underage drinking, “and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon.”