New Nebraska law protects underage people in alcohol related emergencies

Story and multimedia by Nick Gebhart, NewsNetNebraska
A law recently passed is not only designed to help people who need help in an emergency, but also protect those who make the call.
LB439, known as the “Good Samaritan law,” was passed in August. State Senator Adam Morfeld introduced the bill with help from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln student government, ASUN. Morfeld is UNL graduate and was a residence assistant on campus.
The law allows people under 21 to be protected from punishment if they call for help during an alcohol related emergency.
According to UNLPD Officer Nolan Conradt, there are four requirements a person has to meet in order for the law to apply to them.
First, if there is a medical emergency, someone must call immediately. Second, the policy only applies to the person making the call. Others cannot “piggyback” onto the call and be exempt from consequences. Third, the caller must wait until medical personnel or law enforcement arrives and finally the caller must cooperate with them at the scene.
If a student or someone underage finds themselves in a position where someone needs help, they are encouraged to make the call.
“Make the call,” said UNL Housing and Residence Life Associate Director Keith Zaborowski. “It’s better to make the call and know your friend is gonna be okay then to not make the call and something bad happening.”

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UNL student speaks about underage drinking
One UNL student who wished to remain anonymous said that the law would have made him less apprehensive about drinking and helping others if they needed help. He is now of age, but was charged with minor in possession twice as a freshman.
“I know, for me, and probably anyone else under 21, the idea of calling the police while you’re drinking seems like a crazy idea. No one would think to do it,” he said. “I was in situations where someone obviously had too much to drink. I’d been in trouble before with the cops so I was always paranoid about getting another MIP. It’s good that there’s a way to avoid making that kind of choice.”
While the student said that no one died or got seriously hurt in his experiences, he said he is much more cautious. He likes to go to bars and host parties, but makes sure he and his friends are safe.
“I’m a lot more careful now,” he said. “I make sure people, and me, don’t do anything stupid like drink and drive. I always make sure everyone has a ride and make sure they don’t go too hard.”
He also thinks the law is important, because it helps people who may need help.
“I think safety is important. Sometimes people make mistakes, but you can’t let people get hurt or let something happen,” he said. “I’d rather risk getting in trouble then let someone die.”

Idea behind the law
ASUN Senator Jeff Story played a role in getting the law passed. He said in an email that he saw that student governments at the University of Minnesota and University of Indiana worked to pass Good Samaritan laws in their states.
Story said that there was already a Good Samaritan Policy in the UNL Student Code of Conduct, but wanted to make the policy apply to everyone.
“We wanted to remove the barrier with law enforcement outside of UNLPD and across the state,” Story said.
“They don’t want to deter that 18 or 19-year-old kid from calling medical units because they think they’re going to get themselves in trouble,” Conradt said.
Because the Good Samaritan law was only recently passed, the exact effects aren’t known yet.
“We hope that the university and people across the state will continue to educate minors about the law, so it can serve the purpose it was meant to,” Story said.
At UNL, it is undeniable that underage drinking takes place on campus. For Conradt and UNLPD, they are aware of this, and encourage students not to do it and potential face consequences.
“We are a dry campus,” Conradt said. “It’s against policies on campus to have (alcohol), it’s against the housing contract, it’s against the Student Code of Conduct, and ultimately it’s against the law if you’re under 21.”
However, Conradt said, if they do choose to do it, he wants them to do it safely, and have someone taking care of them and not driving while intoxicated.
Zaborowski said that the choice to drink comes to the individual, and they should make sure they do everything they can to stay safe.
“I read the police reports that come through, and see the high BACs (blood alcohol content). It’s scary to see people in two-point-something range,” Zaborowski said. “There’s a point where your body just shuts down and you could die.”
The Good Samaritan law is also a change in how UNL has looked at drinking alcohol.
“I think this law is part of the much bigger effort by multiple groups and administrators at the university to approach high risk drinking with common sense,” Story said. “I think it shows that people are actively addressing the alcohol problem on and around UNL’s campus, and that we are valuing the safety of every student.”
“There’s this idea that enforcing policy somehow jeopardizes the safety of students,” Zaborowski said. “Our goal is always if a student has had too much to drink, we get them the help that they need.”
Zaborowski said that the ultimate goal of the law is to save lives.
“The whole goal is prevent people from dying of alcohol poisoning,” he said. “If the law saves even one life, then it has been a success.”

Additional reading

Lincoln Journal Star report on the Good Samaritan law

Nebraska Collegiate Consortium to Reduce High-Risk Drinking

The risks of drinking in college

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