Bill allowing bars to sue underage drinkers passes Assembly committee

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MADISON (WITI) -- A Wisconsin Assembly committee has unanimously passed a bill that would allow bar and liquor store owners to sue underage drinkers. The proposed legislation would require underage drinkers to pay $1,000 in addition to fines for violating the law.

Like many restaurants and bars in the area, staff at Ashley's Que says about 30% to 40% of sales comes from a proper pour of alcohol. However, it is also important to ensure that alcohol is not being served to minors.

"For us, one little underage drinking ticket can affect us being open next year or not," Ashley's Que Co-Owner Josh Pietrykowski said.

Since the business opened, Pietrykowski says he hasn't had an underage drinking incident, but he says one slip and his liquor license could be pulled -- and that's just the beginning.

"You have the ownerships that could get a fine on their record. You have the bartenders that could possibly loose their bartending lenses, so their livelihood is at risk," Pietrykowski said.

Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa supports a bi-partisan bill that would detour minors from drinking. Zamarripa says if caught, an underage drinker faces a police citation costing between $200 to $500.

A proposed law could make that penalty stiffer -- allowing businesses to take an underage drinker to civil court.

"It allows that tavern owner or retailer to sue that underage drinker for up to $1,000. This kinda evens the playing field by discouraging underage drinking," Zamarripa said.

Pietrykowski says he believes the bill would be a good first step towards combating underage drinking.

Critics argue the bill only adds to the caseloads in civil court and an additional $1,000 won't stop every minor from making what could be a major mistake.

"Helps bring fairness to the situation for that tavern owner," Zamarripa said.

The bill passed through an Assembly committee unanimously and next heads to the full Assembly.