A bill that could lead to jail time for adults providing alcohol to minors passed a Maryland Senate committee unanimously last month. The bill’s success rested heavily on the emotional testimony of two grieving fathers, David Murk and Paul Li, both of whom lost sons in a car crash caused by an intoxicated classmate after a party where the minors had been drinking. Both fathers spoke to the committee on their complete devastation by the loss of their sons, both of whom had seemingly bright futures ahead of them. Beyond their own personal tragedies, both were driven to act when they realized, as Murk testified, that they were “not seeing a change in the community,” as parents in their neighborhoods continue to host parties where teenagers are allowed to drink alcohol.
The fathers’ testimony was a powerful, direct plea for harsher penalties with a goal to change the community culture around adult enabling of teenage drinking. Though the committee had only planned to hear testimony, many were visibly moved, and committee chairman Senator Robert Zirkin spontaneously called for an immediate vote on the bill. Results were unanimously in favor of the legislation, dubbed “Alex and Calvin’s Law,” after the two teens who lost their lives.
Under the new bill, any adult who provides alcohol to someone under 21 would receive a prison sentence of up to one year and/or a fine of up to $5,000 for a first offense. Penalties for a subsequent offense would be even harsher. Maryland’s current law imposes much lower fines and no jail time for adults who provide alcohol to minors. In the case of the adults responsible for the party attended by Alex and Calvin, the sons to whom the bill is dedicated, a fine of only $2,500 for each citation was issued to the culprits—currently the maximum penalty allowed.
Montgomery County Captain Tom Didone cited 30 underage drinking parties police have cracked down on since the deaths of Alex and Calvin, of which at least a third were hosted by adults. Combined with the current lenient penalties, the committee agreed that signs point to a need for something to force a change in the culture of leniency around providing alcohol to teens.
The bill will need to be approved by the House Judiciary Committee to be considered by the full legislature to become law. If passed, legislators hope that the harsher penalties will send the message that providing alcohol to teens has consequences.