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Leaders look to up fines for drinking offenses

Measure would triple price underage drinking offenders pay

The impact of alcohol-related crimes on municipal government and a proposal to raise the maximum fine for underage drinking to $1,000 will be the focus of a public hearing Monday in State College by the state Senate Majority Policy Committee. Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, plans this fall to introduce this legislation, which would also allow individual municipalities to “opt in” and charge those found guilty of any drinking-related offenses an extra $100 fee.

That additional fee would fund alcohol-related prevention programs, said Corman.

“Many people who participate in drinking do it responsibly,” he added. “This is a way of going out to the folks that are committing offenses. If they’re going to cause these resources to be needed, they’re the ones who should pay for it.”

Corman said officials from the Pennsylvania university towns of Indiana and West Chester have also been invited to testify at the meeting, scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday in Room 304 of the Municipal Building, 243 S. Allen St.

About two-thirds of the 7,000 crimes reported each year in State College are alcohol-related, said Police Chief Tom King.

Unchanged since 1972, the $300 maximum fine for underage drinking is no longer a deterrent, said King, who plans to testify at the hearing.

“There isn’t the same impact there was 35 years ago,” he said. “People get out the credit card and don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal. But a $1,000 fine isn’t something you readily pay off.”

Borough Council President Ron Filippelli said he’d like to see the increase in fines apply to other alcohol-related offenses, not just underage drinking.

“It’s a great start,” Filippelli said. “I think it doesn’t go far enough.”

Scott Sikorski, Corman’s legislative director, said the proposed legislation, for now, targets raising underage drinking fines — money distributed directly to municipalities.

Fines for other alcohol-related offenses, such as drunken driving and furnishing to minors, are distributed on county and state levels, he added.

This summer, Corman assembled a committee of university and borough officials, district judges and attorneys, and police to help draft the bill.

A member of that group, Keystone Church co-pastor Perry Babb, called the plan a “one-two punch.”

“It makes the consequences more serious,” Babb said. “But it also helps reimburse the taxpayers for something that wasn’t their fault, but they’re having to absorb the cost anyway.”

Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, introduced a bill in 2007 to allow a $150 or $200 municipal surcharge per alcohol-related crime. That bill was reintroduced in March and sits in the state House Judiciary Committee.

In 2007, State College Borough Council entertained the possibility of a per-drink alcohol tax — an idea that has yet to find support in the General Assembly and received strong opposition from local taverns.