As lawmakers look for ways to trim the budget this session, Sen. Peter Micciche is proposing a new approach to underage drinking he says would be less stigmatizing for young people and save the state money.


Under Title 4, underage drinking can be considered a misdemeanor criminal offense that requires court appearances by both the defendant and police officer involved. A conviction leaves a lifelong mark on a young person’s legal record.


Sen. Micciche and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board said the law is too expensive too enforce, and unnecessarily harsh.


“Just a show of hands of people here, how many of you did not ever consume as a minor?” Micciche asked at a lunch presentation to fellow lawmakers Monday. “There’s not one hand up and I won’t raise mine either.”


Senate Bill 99, sponsored by Micciche, would make underage drinking a violation, fineable at $500.


“We think a citation is the way to go. Doesn’t mean we have lower expectations, right? We expect that behavior to not continue,” Micciche said. “A lot of these young people have had their future potential compromised for a single mistake that many of us have made, but were not caught.”


The hefty fine could be reduced to $50, if the person attends a court alcohol safety action program.


“The way the statute is written is intended to provide a carrot to a young person who will go get treatment,” said ABC Board Director Cynthia Franklin.


If a person doesn’t pay the fine or take the class, Franklin said the state could pull the money from their Permanent Fund dividend check.


Under current laws, an officer would have to check whether or not a young person has had prior offenses for underage drinking before giving a ticket. The ABC board said the new system would cut back on time spent tracking those individuals and make it easier for officers to enforce the law equally.


“For example, an officer who interrupts a kegger, a party with obviously underage people, having alcohol involved. There’s just no way that he could take that much time and that much effort to write up everybody who’s there,” said Bob Klein, ABC board chairman. “You just can’t do it. Under this new system, yes.”


SB 99 also proposes designating seats on the ABC board for members of the health and public safety departments, and would require one seat be reserved for a representative of rural Alaska.