AUGUSTA – Adults who provide alcohol to kids should lose their licenses for 30 days, 90 days, or even a year, said Sen. John Nutting, D-Leeds, who is sponsoring a bill to increase punishment.

Studies show that 70 percent of underage drinkers get alcohol from older friends, relatives and strangers, Nutting said. Current punishments can be fines of $250 or $500. People convicted of providing alcohol to underage drinkers should suffer more by losing their drivers’ licenses, Nutting said during a public hearing before the Criminal Justice Committee.

“Too many children are dying. Existing laws are not getting the job done,” he said during a public hearing Monday. “We can do a better job.”

Co-sponsor Rep. Patricia Blanchette, D-Bangor, agreed, calling L.D. 903 a vital proposal. “Before now and July 1, too many kids will die a tragic, unnecessary death. This just cannot be tolerated in Maine anymore,” she said.

As someone who works in retail, Blanchette said that if she sells alcohol to someone under 21, “I stand not only to get a $10,000 fine from my pocket, I can go to jail.” Yet there are people, “and we see them, who come in and buy four or five suitcases of beer, two or three jugs of cheap wine, and pass it into a car loaded with children. It has to be stopped,” Blanchette said. “If I hear one more time, ‘Kids will be kids,’ I may lose it.”

Blanchette spoke of a tragedy in her area last summer in which a teenager was given alcohol and was missing for three days. Her body was found in her car in a river. Police determined the girl drove her vehicle into the river after drinking.

Taking licenses from those who provide alcohol “is a vital step to stop this,” Blanchette said.

Spokesmen for Diageo, a business involved in selling the world’s leading brands of alcoholic beverages, including Guinness, Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, Crown Royal and Baileys, also spoke in favor.

Diageo doesn’t want any business from underage drinkers, the spokesmen said. While some may say taking someone’s license away for providing alcohol is too severe, Joseph Luppino of Diageo North America said there is no harsher penalty than a parent who loses a child because another adult supplied alcohol.

Others, including those in the insurance business, also spoke in favor of the legislation.

The only one to speak against it was an official from Maine’s Secretary of State’s Office.

Robert O’Connell of the Bureau of Motor Vehicle said a person should not lose his or her driver’s license for something that is not directly related to their breaking a traffic law.

The goal is a worthy one, O’Connell said, but his bureau opposes the bill because there is no relationship between possession of a driver’s license and providing alcohol to a minor.

“How does this license suspension protect the safety of the motoring public?” O’Connell said.

Blanchette, who is a member of the Criminal Justice Committee, responded by saying Mainers can lose their driver’s licenses if they don’t pay child support, and that is not related to how they drive.

O’Connell answered that the deadbeat parent law is different because it was not passed for broad policy reasons. “That was enacted to fill a hole in the state budget. … This bill’s sole purpose is to punish.”

The Criminal Justice Committee will take up the bill in a not-yet-scheduled work session.

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