Students cited for underage drinking or other alcohol-related crimes may have to shell out more cash to pay for their crimes if the state House passes legislation sponsored by Sen. Jake Corman.
State lawmakers from the House Judiciary Committee came to State College on Wednesday to hear what local government and student leaders think about two of the Corman-backed bills.
One bill would raise the maximum fine for public drunkenness or underage drinking from $300 to $1,000. The other bill would impose an additional $100 alcohol offense prevention fee on anyone who commits certain alcohol-related offenses in college towns. That fee would go back to the municipality where the crime was committed.
The Senate passed both bills in June. They are currently in the House Judiciary Committee.
State College Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said the borough hopes the increased fees would be enough to discourage people from committing crimes as a result of the high-risk drinking.
“We would anticipate that there would be some deterrent in the illegal use of alcohol,” Fountaine said. “Deterrent is first and foremost a driving force behind our support of the legislation.”
When alcohol-related issues arise, however, the fees will reduce the cost to the borough, he said. State College incurs roughly $3 million a year in costs directly related to high-risk, excessive alcohol consumption. That includes police and public works expenses stemming from alcohol issues, Fountaine said.
If the legislation passes, the fees will help pay for the borough’s new, restorative justice program that allows first-time offenders to meet with community members affected by their decisions before facing more severe penalties, Fountaine said.
He said the fees would also fund the Neighborhood Enforcement Alcohol Team, in which police officers patrol the Highlands neighborhood on weekend nights. The program also involves proactive education and outreach to prevent crimes, Fountaine said.
Off-Campus Student Union President Joe Nichisti said he’s glad the fees would go to restorative justice programs within municipalities.
“I hate to see a college student make one mistake and be fined $1,000,” Nichisti (senior-chemistry) said.
At the same time, students need to learn how to behave when they’re drunk, Nichisti said.
Spencer Malloy, University Park Undergraduate Association chairman of the assembly, said he’s concerned the bill instituting an additional $100 fine is targeting Penn State students. But he said the bill should improve the relationship between students and community members.
A big part of that is students taking responsibility for their place, Malloy (senior-philosophy and agroecology) said.
“I cautiously support this kind of chance, because it will help the borough deal with these sorts of crimes, and it puts the cost on people who are committing crimes,” he said.
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