- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Intoxicated minors who seek medical help for themselves or a friend could avoid alcohol charges under a bill presented Monday to a Nebraska legislative committee.

The proposal drew support from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the student body president, Lincoln police and an administrator at Nebraska Wesleyan University.

The measure by Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln would give limited legal immunity to underage drinkers who are intoxicated, call for medical assistance and cooperate with authorities. Immunity would only extend to alcohol charges.

Morfeld said the bill is designed to encourage underage drinkers to seek medical attention for alcohol poisoning without having to fear a criminal conviction.

“Tragic, accidental deaths can be avoided with policies such as this,” he told the Legislature’s General Affairs Committee.

If it passes, Nebraska would join 21 other states with similar policies.

In September, former University of Nebraska-Lincoln freshman Clayton Real died of acute alcohol poisoning in his fraternity room after an off-campus party. Witnesses told investigators that Real got drunk and passed out, and was brought back to the FarmHouse Fraternity house and left in his room.

Affidavits show he died of acute alcohol intoxication, with a blood-alcohol content of more than four times the legal driving limit. Four fraternity members were charged with a felony count of procuring alcohol for a minor, resulting in death. The university suspended the FarmHouse Fraternity chapter indefinitely.

Student leaders endorsed the bill after spending the last year studying so-called “Good Samaritan” laws in other states, said University of Nebraska Regent and UNL student-body president Kevin Knudson. Knudson said students may hesitate to call authorities out of fear that an alcohol conviction could make it harder to secure a job.

The bill “sends a message to the young people of this state that we care more about them receiving life-saving medical assistance than an alcohol citation,” Knudson said.

Geraldine Cotter, the associate dean of students at Nebraska Wesleyan University, said she knows of at least two close calls in which a student needed medical attention but friends hesitated to call authorities.

“Both of these situations ended positively, but they just as easily could have gone the other way,” she said.

Assistant Lincoln Police Chief Brian Jackson said his department rarely files charges when underage drinkers call for medical help, but the measure would provide them assurances.

“The real need is to make sure no one loses their life from a poor decision,” he said.

Some senators questioned whether underage drinkers could exploit the law by requesting medical help when confronted by a police officer or dialing 911 when a police are called to a house party.

“I want to make sure that we don’t create a loophole that becomes a get-out-of-jail free card,” said Sen. Colby Coash, of Lincoln.

Morfeld said he was willing to change the bill to address the concerns.

The measure was opposed by the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys. Lobbyist John Lindsay said the group agrees with the bill’s purpose but opposes language that would prevent police officers from being sued if they fail to comply with the law.

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The bill is LB439


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