State law enforcement is armed with a new weapon geared to combat underage drinkers who consume alcoholic beverages.
A revamped state law makes it illegal for those younger than 21 to attempt to consume alcohol. It mandates stronger repercussions for those who buy alcohol to give to underage drinkers as well as clerks who sell to underage drinkers.
"This is the newest arsenal in our toolbox to prevent underage drinking and to get help and intervention for those who need it," said Jane Alleva, community relations director for Keystone Substance Abuse Center.
Gov. Mark Sanford signed the amended law in mid-June. It became effective July 1.
Before the law was updated, authorities could charge those younger than 21 with possession if they had alcohol on their person or if they claimed ownership of an alcoholic beverage, Capt. Allen Brandon of the York County Sheriff's Office said. However, if someone consumed alcohol and appeared drunk, authorities could only charge him with public intoxication or public disorderly conduct, he said.
"In previous years, that was a dilemma for us because if the person didn't rise to the level of intoxication and was not driving, we had a possible consumption violation, which the law did not address," Brandon said.
State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, and Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, co-sponsored the stiffer penalties with multiple state leaders.
"In recent years, tragic deaths of teen- agers in York County and across the state have been caused as a result of alcohol consumption," Hayes wrote in a newsletter summarizing the 2007 legislative session.
Under the new law, first-time offenders will lose their driver's licenses for 120 days, as compared to 90 days under the old law. Repeat violators will not be able to drive for 12 months, up from six months.
Underage violators also must attend a state-approved alcohol intervention program for at least eight hours and pay court fines.
"This isn't about giving kids penalties," Alleva said. "This is about educating and helping them change their path before they take a tragic wrong turn by getting behind the wheel."
On Jan. 1, repeat adult violators will be required to equip their cars with an interlock device similar to a breathalyzer at their expense. They must blow on the device before starting their car, Alleva said.
"If it registers .02, the car won't start," Alleva said.
The new law also addresses stiffer penalties for those who buy alcohol and give it to underage drinkers.
On Jan. 1, clerks will be required to register kegs of 5 gallons or more as patrons purchase them. Clerks also will face stiffer penalties for selling alcohol to underage patrons.
Lt. Jerry Waldrop of the Rock Hill Police Department said the new law will help deter underage drinking.
"It will cover all the basics when it comes to prosecuting the person who bought the alcohol, the person who consumed it and the person who sold it," he said.
The new law
Here's a quick look at the revamped statewide alcohol law -- dubbed Prevention of Underage Drinking and Access to Alcohol Act -- that went into effect July 1.
Under the new law:
n Attempts to purchase are illegal for underage drinkers.
n Consumption is illegal for underage drinkers.
n Violators face increased fines, ranging from $100 to $500 and/or up to 30 days in jail.
n First-time violators can lose their driver's license for 120 days. Repeat offenders can lose their license for a year.
n Violators must attend an approved alcohol intervention program for at least eight hours.
n Violators who qualify for tuition grants, needs-based grants, Palmetto Fellowships and LIFE scholarships will not be disqualified with their first alcohol-related offense. Violators can lose their assistance with a second alcohol-related offense.
n Those who lie about their identity to get alcohol can face fines up to $200 and/or up to 30 days in jail.
n Those who buy alcohol to give to an underage drinker can face fines up to $300 and/or up to 30 days in jail for a first offense. Repeat offenders face fines up to $500 and up to 30 days in jail.
n Clerks who sell to underage drinkers can face fines up to $200 and/or up to 30 days in jail for a first offense. Repeat offenders can face a fine up to $500 and/or up to 30 days in jail.
On Jan. 1:
n Clerks will be required to have those purchasing kegs of beer to complete an identification form and statement noting they will not give the beer to an underage drinker.
n Repeat violators will be required to equip their cars at their expense with an ignition interlock similar to a breathalyzer. They must blow on the device to start the car; the car will not start if the device registers at .02.
-- Sources: Prevention of Underage Drinking and Access to Alcohol Act, Keystone Substance Abuse Center