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Sen. Brian J. Feldman (File photo)

Md. Senate passes bill allowing jail for hosts of underage-drinking parties

ANNAPOLIS – The Senate on Thursday passed legislation to allow judges to imprison adults who host underage-drinking parties.

With the Senate’s 46-0 vote, attention shifts to the House of Delegates, where similar legislation is pending.

Sen. Brian J. Feldman, D-Montgomery, introduced Senate Bill 564 following the deaths last June of Alex Murk and Calvin Li, both 18, in a single-car crash on a residential road after attending an underage-drinking party. The recent graduates of Rockville’s Thomas S. Wootton High School were passengers in a car driven by Samuel Ellis, 19, who police said was legally drunk while approaching speeds of 100 miles per hour on Dufief Mill Road in North Potomac.

Ellis is facing charges of homicide by motor vehicle, vehicular manslaughter and causing life-threatening injury while intoxicated. Kenneth Saltzman, who police said hosted more than 20 underage drinkers at his North Potomac home, pleaded guilty to two counts of furnishing alcohol to individuals under age 21 and paid a $5,000 fine.

Saltzman had broken a state law prohibiting adults from “knowingly and willfully” allowing someone under age 21 from possessing or consuming an alcoholic beverage at the adult’s residence. The statute, which currently carries no jail sentence, makes exceptions for members of the adult’s immediate family and for participants in a religious ceremony.

Passage of SB 564 is “the legislature at its best,” Feldman said of increasing the penalty for hosting an underage-drinking party. “We proactively took a step to address a weakness in our laws. It reflects well on the work of the legislature.”

The measure — titled “Alex and Calvin’s Law” — would add a potential jail sentence of up to one year for a first offense and up to two years for each subsequent violation. SB 564 would also increase the maximum fines from $2,500 to $5,000 for a first offense and from $5,000 to $7,500 for each subsequent offense.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore County, did not cast a vote on the legislation.

SB 564 has been cross-filed in the House of Delegates as House Bill 409. The chief sponsor of HB 409 is Del. David V. Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery.

While proposing stricter criminal sanctions, legislators have declined to address whether parents who host underage-drinking parties could be held civilly liable for harm caused by or to their inebriated guests who get into a car. However, Maryland’s top court has recently heard two cases addressing whether the state’s common law provides for such civil liability.

The Court of Appeals is expected to render its decisions by Aug. 31. The two cases are Nancy Dankos (F/K/A Nancy Davis) v. Linda Stapf, No. 55 September Term 2015, and Manal Kiriakos v. Brandon Phillips, No. 20 September Term 2015.

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