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Sups split on underage drinking

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
July 13, 2001
Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie wants supervisors to adopt an ordinance aimed at reducing the number of "dead teenagers" by prohibiting them from drinking alcohol.
But Board of Supervisors President Jimmie Smith said he doesn't want a proposal to cover everyone under 21 because it could leave young adults with criminal records.
Sollie asked supervisors in May to prohibit anyone under 21 from drinking alcohol. State law prohibits public drunkenness and underage possession of alcohol, but not underage consumption.
The ordinance would be modeled after a similar one adopted by Meridian city officials in 1982. The sheriff said later that city police have arrested at least 53 people for violating the law since January 1999.
Hearing set next week
Supervisors set a public hearing on the issue for 5 p.m. on July 19 in the courthouse annex. On Thursday, supervisors were split whether the ordinance should include all underage drinkers or just those under 18.
District 1 Supervisor Hank Florey agreed with Smith, saying that young adults arrested for drinking alcohol could have problems applying for law enforcement jobs or to attend college.
But Sollie said charges outlined in the proposed ordinance would be misdemeanors. He said universities such as Mississippi State and Auburn don't include questions on applications about misdemeanor arrests.
Sollie said everyone charged could have the offense removed from their records after a year.
Smith, though, said he is concerned poor people couldn't afford an attorney to do so. While Sollie said removing the charge wouldn't require a lawyer, board attorney Les Prichard said it would be wise to have one.
Boswell, Hitt support proposal
District 5 Supervisor Ray Boswell said a charge under the proposed ordinance would be a misdemeanor, "just like reckless driving. People don't expunge reckless driving from their records."
District 3 Supervisor Craig Hitt said unsupervised parties in people's homes and in county pastures are a problem because teenagers drink freely, block roads and possibly drive home drunk.
Boswell said he is "not going to try to be the sheriff. You're the sheriff. You were elected by the people in this county. If you think you need this tool to do your job, then I think this board should give it to you."
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3275, or e-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.

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