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At a Tuesday markup of the Taleshia Ford Memorial Amendment Act of 2007, the Committee on Public Works and the Environment voted to strike a section of the bill that would make it a crime for minors to buy alcohol at ABC-licensed establishments.
Currently, kids who buy alcoholic beverages at ABC-licensed establishments are subject to civil penalties and fines. Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham‘s bill would have taken that punishment a step further. Under his legislation, a minor caught buying beer at a bar or nightclub would have had that purchase written into his or her criminal record. A provision within the bill also said the crime would be automatically expunged from the minor’s record after he or she turned 21, or through participation in the Time Dollar Youth Court, Graham says.
Ford, 17, was killed by a stray bullet at Smarta/Broadway on 9th Street NW in January. Graham introduced his bill shortly after her death and workshopped it for months with a coalition of community members, alcohol officials, and alcohol licensees. Some music-loving minors originally criticized the bill for threatening D.C.’s tradition of the all-ages show.
In its revised form, the Act prohibits unaccompanied minors under age 18 from hanging out at alcohol-licensed establishments that provide entertainment after 11 p.m. on school nights and after 12 a.m. on weekends or during the summer. They can attend events at alcohol-licensed establishments that provide entertainment if all the alcohol is locked up at the time.
At yesterday’s reading, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh offered an amendment to strike that section of the bill. In an interview, she called criminalization a “disproportionate and unnecessary” response to underage drinking at bars and clubs. “Who among us may not have tried to get a drink?” she asked. “The response is not to criminalize this behavior, but see that things are enforced that are already on the books.”
Said Graham: “It was as enlightened a provision as you could have and it seemed to be very important to our bar owners. For those reasons I voted in favor of it, but the majority of the committee opposed it.”
Cheh’s amendment was passed 2-1. The committee then voted unanimously to bring the bill before the full Council for a vote. A date for the vote has not been scheduled.