By JEREMY PELZER
STATE CAPITOL BUREAU
SPRINGFIELD -- Tougher punishments for underage drinkers unanimously passed the Illinois Senate Friday.
Under House Bill 3131, anyone younger than 21 who is given court supervision for possessing or consuming alcohol would be reported to the secretary of state's office and automatically have his or her driver's license suspended for three months.
The suspension would be given even if the person caught drinking was not in or near a vehicle.
The bill passed the House 115-1 late last month.
Rebecca Rausch, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, said the governor's policy advisers are reviewing the proposal, "but it seems like something we'd support."
Under current Illinois law, anyone convicted of underage drinking is reported to the secretary of state's office, which then slaps an automatic one-year license suspension on the offender. But as it is now, underage drinkers given court supervision are not reported to the secretary of state and therefore face no suspension.
Courts often choose to give underage drinkers court supervision rather than convict them. Within the last year in Sangamon County, court supervision was ordered in 111 of the 148 cases involving possession of alcohol by a minor, consumption of alcohol by a minor and unlawful consumption of alcohol by a minor, according to circuit clerk records.
HB 3131 was introduced by House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, after five teens in his hometown were killed in a Feb. 11 drunken-driving accident.
Sen. Linda Holmes, an Aurora Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said that while "teens may not initially be extremely happy with" the proposal, "it definitely will help provide some safety measures."
"When you're a teenager, you pretty much think you're indestructible. And unfortunately that's not true," Holmes said. "This is a way of making teens stand up and notice, because if you take away a driver's license -- which undoubtedly is a teen's most valuable possession that allows them the freedom to go shopping, go to school, go to work, do everything they want to do -- this may make them think twice."
Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, said he voted for the legislation because "we need to do everything we can to help prevent some of the tragedies that have occurred in our area."
In Tazewell County, 15 teens died in traffic crashes during a 15-month period in 2005 and 2006.
Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, said Illinois has "a chronic problem with underage drinking."
"I can only presume that everybody felt as I did, that in order to control underage drinking, maybe we need to go a little further, and this is a way of doing this," Bomke said.
Jeremy Pelzer can be reached at (217) 782-3095 or at email@example.com.