Bill gives legal immunity to underage drinkers seeking help

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- A Senate committee on Thursday advanced a bill giving legal immunity to underage drinkers who contact police or medical officials for help.

Proponents of the bill said granting immunity could increase the reporting of sexual assaults and prevent such situations as underage drinkers abandoning their intoxicated friends at the hospital.

More than 100 Arizona State University students gathered at the state Capitol in support of the bill, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 6-1 vote on Thursday.

Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, said her Senate Bill 1190 removes fear that prevents underage drinkers from calling for help for themselves or their friends.

"This is a true grassroots effort in order to save lives and save futures," Ward said.

Three ASU students gave testimony in support of the bill.

Elizabeth Giovino, a 19-year-old sophomore, said she was sexually assaulted during her first semester at university, but never called police because she didn't want a citation for underage drinking.

"As human beings, it is in our nature to put ourselves first," she said. "A lot of students wouldn't put that risk on themselves."

Giovino said the legislation will encourage sexual assault victims to call police and file a report.

Jen Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, opposed the bill, saying it takes discretion away from police officers and prosecutors.

"That kind of discretion is very important to our law enforcement community," she said.

Marson said that people should help each other, regardless of the consequences.

"That's what grown-ups should be taught to do," she said.

The bill now moves to a floor vote pending a standard constitutional review. Montana's Legislature is mulling a similar bill.

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