ANNAPOLIS – About 300 students, parents and activists braved a cool drizzle Thursday to rally against underage drinking and the Maryland parents who tolerate it.
Chanting “Put a cork in it!” students from as far away as Washington and Dorchester counties piled out of eight school buses with homemade signs and banners.
“In my high school there is a drinking problem,” said J.R. Burkhardt, a senior at St. Michael’s High School in Talbot County. “We are trying to offset the peer pressure.”
Parents at the rally credited groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for curbing drunk driving across the state, but said they also want adults to realize the danger of alcohol itself.
“This represents a grass roots effort to change the way we think about kids and drinking,” said Martha Rosacker, the Montgomery County substance abuse coordinator. “There is a tendency to accept underage drinking and we’re working very hard to change that.”
After the rally, activists packed into the House Judiciary Committee to testify on a bill that would penalize people over 21 who permit or ignore underage drinking in their home.
There, 16-year-old Blaine Dorsey of Walkersville High School in Frederick County told a wrenching story about losing his 19-year-old brother David after a 1993 keg party.
“David made the fatal decision to drink and drive. No one should ever have to go through what I did,” said Blaine, who has pledged not to drink. “If I can make a commitment, then you as adults can make commitments, too.”
But passing the law may be difficult despite broad support among committee members.
The members pointed out aspects of the measure already covered by state law that criminalizes “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”
They also said the bill could create bizarre situations. For instance, a 21-year-old college student could be held liable for the drinking of an underage roommate.
“We understand and agree with the thrust,” said Del. Dana Lee Dembrow, D-Montgomery. “But we’re having trouble writing the law to fit these circumstances.”
In 1994, a similar bill died in committee because it was poorly written. Del. Pauline H. Menes, D-Prince George’s, the sponsor both years, said the new version has “stronger and tighter language.”
But Menes and others who testified acknowledged problems remained and asked for suggestions on how to make the bill work.
Even so, some committee members disagreed with the principle of the measure, saying that additional laws won’t solve the problem. “We cannot codify parental responsibility,” said Del. Emmett C. Burns, D-Baltimore. -30-