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New Florida law granting amnesty to underage drinkers takes effect July 1

Lawmakers and education officials say the legislation will save lives.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis [CHRIS URSO  |   Times]
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Jun. 11, 2019

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Friday that will protect young people from legal penalties if they are drinking underage and call for medical help.

The bill, HB 595, was sponsored by two lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg. It expands a law created in 2012 that pardons those who call 911 to help someone who has overdosed on drugs.

“Public safety is paramount and it’s critical our young men and women get the medical attention they need in an emergency,” DeSantis said in a news release by the Florida Board of Governors. “This bill helps ensure our young people on campuses will proactively seek medical help for their peers in emergency situations.”

The legislation was a priority for the Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s public universities, the release said. It cited information from the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs that shows alcohol-related deaths are rising among 18- to 24-year-olds.

Board Chairman Ned Lautenbach created a student safety task force focused on drugs, alcohol and mental health to help combat the problem last year. Its work is aimed at encouraging responsible choices and ensuring students feel safe enough to reach out for help when they need it.

“This law is a big step toward removing barriers that might prevent someone from calling to save a life,” Lautenbach said in the news release.

State Rep. David Silvers, the second sponsor of the bill, said it’s important that the state gets the word out to students about the new law, adding: “Fear of getting in trouble should never be a reason that someone doesn’t make that life-saving phone call.”

Florida Student Association president Jalisa White praised the work of lawmakers, thanking them for getting the bill to DeSantis’ desk.

“If this law can save even one life, then it will be worth it," she said in the release.

Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com. Follow @mareevs.

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