Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Thursday, January 26, 2012

We need to amend Ridgewood's underage drinking ordinance

I was not a supporter of Ridgewood's underage drinking ordinance when it was adopted in 2007. I'm still not a fan. Not because I advocate underage drinking, but because I felt the ordinance was not really going to have an effect on the ways kids do what they do and the way the police do what they do. I felt it would give the grown-ups in town a false sense of having "handled" the problem, while driving the teens to get more secretive and hurried (which is dangerous when it comes to drinking). But the point is moot now because the ordinance has been in place for 5 years.

What I'm advocating now is an amendment to the ordinance that makes teens and parents aware of a state law designed to save lives and prevent injury.

Here are the comments I made to the Ridgewood Village Council at their work session last night:
In October 2009, the State of New Jersey signed into law 911: Lifeline legislation – also known as the “Amnesty Law” – which says that if a minor calls for medical assistance for an intoxicated person, they can not be prosecuted for underage drinking themselves, nor will the intoxicated person be prosecuted if they are underage.

This is an important law – its intention is to avoid a situation where a teen doesn’t call for help because he’s afraid he’s going to get in trouble.

It’s not a “get out of jail free” card, there are very specific rules to be followed, and it doesn’t protect teens from punishment from mom & dad, but it can keep kids safe when they find themselves in a dangerous situation and have to make a decision.

Amnesty is already the law in Ridgewood, because it’s the law in the entire state of New Jersey. And yet – this potentially-lifesaving law is only effective if kids know about it. In order for it to work, to potentially save a life or prevent injury, kids must know, in advance, that they can call 911 to get help, without fear.

I’ve talked to many Ridgewood teens since the state law was enacted, and I can say that none of them knew about this law.

One way to get the word out is to amend Ridgewood’s underage drinking ordinance to include the language of the state amnesty law, and I know you have such an amendment on the agenda tonight.

Several other towns and municipalities in New Jersey have revised their municipal codes in this way, and I urge our Council to take this step.

As you review the amendment tonight, I hope parents will be paying attention, and will take this opportunity to discuss the law and inform their children.

I hope teens will hear about this amendment, will talk about the law with each other, will know that it’s for real, and will remember it should they be faced with a dangerous situation – a friend that needs help – on any Friday or Saturday (or any other) night in Ridgewood.

All of us want Ridgewood teens to be safe. We all hope they make smart choices. But when they make a mistake, and it turns dangerous, this law can help ensure that mistake doesn’t turn into a tragedy.

Following my comments and those of Municipal Alliance chair Sheila Brogan last night, a few Council members had questions. Some of the questions and comments focused on perceived problems with the proposed ordinance's wording. As Village Attorney Matt Rogers explained, the wording is taken verbatim from the state law. If anyone has a problem with wording of the state law, they should take that up with Trenton. All we are trying to do is highlight the state law for Ridgewood teens.

The Municipal Alliance (of which I'm a member) will be putting together some materials and hopefully distributing to our high school students soon.

I've heard too many stories of close calls -- kids who dropped off a drunk friend on their doorstep, or invited a friend to stay and "sleep it off," or left a friend passed out on the curb or the right-of-way -- that luckily turned out OK. Kids make mistakes. We know that. It's normal for their development. It's also normal for them to fear getting in trouble and, in their immature brains, this fear can trump good decisions. I'm proud that our state had the good sense to enact the Amnesty Law and I hope Ridgewood's ordinance amendment will help get the word out in our town.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for doing this and thanks to the Municipal Alliance for its planned educational materials.
It is an important topic and one where a little education might literally save a life.

Anonymous said...

What about the rampant drug use? You can make purchases at 463 Hunter rd.

Laurie said...

So....you're either advertising or trying to get someone busted. Either way, there's got to be better ways to reach your goals than posting on my of-late sleepy blog.

And I think your term "rampant" is not accurate.

Anonymous said...

Why do you not go take a look for yourself?

Laurie said...

Go take a look where, on Hunter Road? I don't know who that is and someone does at their house isn't really my business.

Anonymous said...

This whole 21 year-old drinking age is nonsense. It should be lowered back to 18. All we have done is created a prohibition like atmosphere. Teens need to learn how to drink and not be afraid of making a mistake. There is a learning curve to drinking. Getting drunk and puking is all part of learning to drink responsibly. No law is going to stop kids. So why are we criminalizing it? Better to have them learn under own own roofs than when they go off to college and there is no one to take care of them when they do get rip roaring drunk and throw up all over the place.

Laurie Goodman said...

I agree with you about the drinking age. I believe that the 21-year-old drinking age has created (or greatly contributed to) the current binge drinking behavior. Instead of 18 year olds or college students going to a party with a keg, drinking beers over the course of an evening, kids now must pre-game by pounding as many drinks as possible in a short time period, so they can get drunk before leaving their dorm room or apartment.

I know that MADD and others believe the benefits of the higher drinking age are proven by the decline in auto accident deaths, but this decline can also be attributed to the advent of the seat belt laws, which happened during the same time period.

For the record (and I've said this before), I think Ridgewood's (and other towns') underage drinking ordinance has also contributed to dangerous drinking. Kids are more afraid of getting caught, so they are driven "underground," drinking in basements or in the woods. They drink vodka instead of beer because it's faster. I opposed the underage ordinance because I felt it was a "feel good" law that allowed the grown-ups in town to feel like they were "solving the problem" and they could therefore take their eye off the ball and move on. And many of them did.

I will say I was encouraged by New Jersey's adoption of the Amnesty Law which protects underage drinkers from prosecution if they call for medical help for a friend with an alcohol-related emergency. And I was thrilled that the Municipal Alliance created pocket cards and distributed them to Ridgewood High School students last June. The cards alert kids to the law and encourage them to call for help without fear of arrest.