ANNAPOLIS – The House Judiciary Committee on Friday delayed until next week its vote on legislation that would allow judges to imprison adults who host underage drinking parties.
The committee’s action followed the Senate’s passage of similar legislation, Senate Bill 564, by a vote of 46-0 on March 3.
The House panel’s delay was prompted by Del. David Moon’s concern that the legislation could enable judges to jail 21-year-olds for serving alcohol to adults just a few years their junior.
“This bill would make all college parties jailable offenses,” said Moon, D-Montgomery and a committee member.
He offered an amendment that would effectively exclude the young adults from being imprisoned.
Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, the committee’s vice chair, assailed Moon’s proposal as potentially weakening what she said should be a strong law against underage drinking parties.
Amid debate on the amendment, Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Prince George’s and the committee’s chair, placed the bill on hold.
The legislation, House Bill 409, was prompted by 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, whom 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, whom 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.
The proposed 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. HB 409 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.
“These families went through hell,” Dumais, D-Montgomery, told her committee colleagues before the hold. “I’m not going to have the bill killed.”
Del. David V. Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery, is the chief sponsor of HB 409. Sen. Brian J. Feldman, D-Montgomery, is the chief sponsor of SB 564.
While proposing stricter criminal sanctions, legislators have declined to address whether parents, or other adults, 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.