Legislation addresses drinking at N.J. colleges

By Catherine Poole

A bill to establish a Task Force on Underage Drinking in Higher Education was introduced to the New Jersey Senate Jan. 13 by Sens. Richard Codey (D Essex) and Shirley Turner (D Mercer), who is also the associate director of Career Services at Rider.

Turner said the string of recent tragedies both at Rider and The College of New Jersey involving injuries and fatalities that resulted from alcohol consumption provided an impetus for the bill.

“We do not want to lose another life,” Turner said. “We’ve lost too many already. Students are being struck down in the prime of their lives, and we need to develop policies to deal with this tragic problem.”

The bill, if passed, will establish a 22-member task force whose primary goal “will be to study and develop recommendations for the most effective means of combating alcohol consumption by those under 21 in a higher education setting,” Turner said. “The representatives on the task force will be from various colleges to work together to accomplish goals. We also want to bring in representatives from alcoholic beverage retailers to help us.”

Members of the task force will include: the chairman of New Jersey Commission on Higher Education, the director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the director of the Division of Addiction Services in the Department of Human Services, and the director of the Division of Highway Traffic Safety. Eighteen other members representing local law enforcement, colleges and universities, retail locations that sell alcohol and Mothers Against Drunk Driving will also be on the task force, all to be appointed by Gov. Jon Corzine.

Once appointed, the task force will take six months to look at existing partnerships in other states between state agencies, institutions of higher education and other groups to see which policies, practices and regulations are helping to address the issue of underage drinking at colleges and universities. The task force will establish a list of best practices that can be utilized to address that issue in New Jersey. The state legislature will then bring those practices back to colleges and universities to help keep students safe, even if it requires additional legislation or updating existing laws.

“We want to educate students on responsible drinking,” Turner said. “There’s nothing wrong with it for those ‘of age,’ as long as it’s not in excess. The task force will establish a list of the best practices that can be utilized to address that issue in New Jersey.”

Turner said the legislation has already passed the Senate Education Committee and is intended to come to the full Senate for a vote before its current session ends in January 2010. However, Turner anticipates this bill will come up for a vote before the budget recess in April. Turner doesn’t see any reason why this bill won’t pass.

The upside to this legislation is that it doesn’t require any funding, which means it won’t be affected by the current recession and won’t become yet another program in danger of being cut because of a lack of resources.

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