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New Social Host Drinking Law

CHAMPAIGN-- 150 new Illinois laws went into effect on Tuesday, one is going to affect those who enable underage drinking. Prior to this amendment those people convicted of providing alcohol to minors faced only civil penalties. However the state of Illinois has now deemed the crime serious enough to be harmful to society and last year moved to attach criminal consequences as well.

    Things have been quiet so far during the winter break from classes, but the streets around the University of Illinois campus will soon become a little more lively. With weekend parties and unofficial St. Patrick's Day looming on the horizon, the cases of underage drinking, public intoxication, and the dangers that accompany them are sure to follow.

    "I think it's a problem that goes unseen, some people shun it publicly, some people let it slide. and obviously since there's news about it it's becoming an issue," said Christian Ford.

    But a new state law that went into effect on January 1st is aiming to help crack down on underage drinking by targeting those people who provide alcohol to minors. The revised Social Host Law provides stricter penalties and greater liability for those who knowingly provide alcohol to underage drinkers.

    University Campus Police captain Roy Acree explained, "Now we actually have, it's a criminal statute that is going to back up the civil proceedings if there should be something that when somebody who is at the party -under 21- who has been drinking is injured in an accident."

    Under the law, violators will be charged with a class A misdemeanor and subject to a fine of at least $500. But the punishment could be greater if bodily harm or even death were to occur. The provider could face a class 4 felony punishable by 1-3 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

"If you are hosting a party under the age of 21, where there are drinkers under the age of 21, there's a really good chance that we'll just go ahead and take you to jail," Acree said.

    There are several ways to avoid the stiff fines, the first of course being to not host underage drinkers at all. But if you do find yourself in a difficult situation, the new law says you can avoid the penalties by notifying police of the incident first, or by taking all reasonable measures to prevent the illegal activity.

    Captain Acree did say that for the majority of the year the campus police force tries to use discretion to keep people out of jail whenever possible, but they will continue to maintain a zero tolerance policy when unofficial St. Patrick's Day draws near.