Senate Panel OKs Measure to Crack Down on Underage Drinking

Sen. Javan James (File photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)
Sen. Javan James (File photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)

A bill to raise the fines for serving alcohol to minors was amended twice before leaving the Committee on Government Operations, Consumer Affairs, Energy, Environment and Planning on Friday and forwarded to the Rules and Judiciary Committee.

One amendment would raise the fines even higher than the measure originally proposed, and a second, added by bill sponsor Sen. Javan James would require anyone being served at a bar to show an approved identification card.

The bill proposes with its amendments to raise the fine for serving a minor or having a minor sell alcohol from a minimum of $100 to $500 and to a maximum $4,000, and to raise the minimum for not fulfilling requiring the identification of minors and displaying a sign from $100 to $500 with a maximum of $4,000.

The bill would require the owner of any night club, bar or dance hall to require anyone entering their establishment to show a valid ID.

Richard Evangelista, commissioner for the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, testified that a report he received indicated retail sellers of alcohol were responsible for the most sales of alcohol to minors. He added his department supported the bill but would like it to go further and increase the minimum drinking age to 21.

Written testimony from the V.I. Association of Psychologist said increasing punitive measures did appear to be a commonsense answer to alcohol abuse problems but research showed it was ineffective as far as the overall alcohol abuse problem.

Mario Brooks, assistant commissioner of police, and 25-year veteran with the V. I. Police Department, testified, “As a community, we must have the conversation with our minor children about the dangers of impaired driving and discourage them from underage drinking regularly. We must, as a community, educate the youth about the possible dangers of alcohol consumption and alcohol poisoning.

Together, through education and a partnership with the community, law enforcement, and you the parents, we will make a difference.”

Sen. Alicia Barnes questioned whether strengthening laws concerning alcohol might be counter to the culture of the Virgin Islands.

Evangelista responded, “Culture is culture. The law is the law. We will enforce the law.”

Barnes said the amount of drinking she saw at recent carnival events on St. Croix was “heartbreaking.”