Harrisburg – On Wednesday, the General Assembly passed legislation sponsored by Senator Jake Corman (R- Bellefonte), which aims to reduce alcohol offenses and the significant financial impact they have on boroughs like State College. The bill now goes to the Governor’s desk for his signature and passage into law.
“This has been something that I, State College Borough officials, and other stakeholders have been working on for the past few years,” said Corman. “I am very happy that this bill was able to pass, and we believe that it will have an immediate impact on the number of alcohol offenses.”
Senate Bill 941 increases the maximum fine for public drunkenness and underage drinking to $1,000. “The goal here is to give the judiciary discretion to make a larger impact, as it sees fit, on the person violating the law, and hopefully providing a deterrent so that the individual makes better decisions the next time around. Additionally, if higher fines are chosen, the municipality and tax payers will see relief in the cost they bear, this time paid by the actual violator, rather than through increased property taxes.”
Currently, the maximum fine limit for underage drinking violations is $500 on second and subsequent offenses, and $300 for all offenses of public drunkenness. The $300 fine for public drunkenness has not been changed since 1972. If adjusted for inflation, the fine would be $1,650.
“Drinking violations are a burden across the Commonwealth, but in college and university settings such as State College, the problem is crippling,” stated Corman. “We started this working group as a direct response to Borough and area residents who had enough of the impacts problematic drinking in their community. And the problem only seems to be getting worse.”
In fact, Borough Police Chief King, presented at Senate hearings data showing that alcohol violations have significantly increased, as well as blood alcohol content of violators and emergency room visits for alcohol induced medical problems, over the past ten years.
“No one enjoys raising fines, but municipalities are continuously facing the rising costs of alcohol related crimes, and those costs are borne by someone – in this case, the taxpayer,” Corman said. “Fine increases have shown a real impact in other university communities across the country. Hopefully, this legislation will be able to reduce the costs to taxpayers by preventing the alcohol violations from continuously happening.”
The working group, which included Borough Manager Tom Fountain, District Attorney Stacey Parks Miller, and others, supported additional legislation, including Corman sponsored Senate Bill 943, which provided an additional fee on alcohol offenses to support prevention programs. Those programs have been proven successful and engage student and community organizations in prevention measures. Senate Bill 943 passed the Senate in June, but did not receive enough support to move out of the House of Representatives this session. Senator Corman has stated that he will reintroduce this legislation and continue to push for policies that reduce the burden of alcohol violations on communities.
Senate Bill 941 and 943 were both supported by the District Attorney’s Association, the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Associations, Centre County Chamber of Business and Industry, the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association and State College Borough.