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Progress Made for Youth Rights in DC

Written by Alex Koroknay-Palicz Mar 28, 2007

Last month Washington, DC Councilman Jim Graham introduced a bill that would ban or restrict young people (everyone under 21) from clubs and music venues in the city. First reported on here in February when we highlighted the amazing committee testimony of Ian MacKaye and Spencer’s thoughts on the underage ban. Since then we’ve been doing some behind the scenes work to stand up for the youth in Washington DC on this very important issue.

In response to the outcry over his bill, Councilman Graham invited community leaders, club owners, and other stake holders in the city to attend weekly meetings to discuss the fine points of his bill and work out compromises that everyone can live with. As the only true representatives of the young people this bill will most affect, NYRA Executive Director Alex Koroknay-Palicz (i.e. me) and NYRA President Scott Davidson have been at these meetings making our views heard.

This has been an excellent experience, and a great opportunity to influence policy directly. There were many important stakeholders present, but most of the time the only people in the room under 30 were NYRA officials. While it was disappointing more young people weren’t present, NYRA’s perspective was invaluable in the discussions that raged in the workgroup. Having a seat at the table showed everyone that young people wouldn’t be silent on the issues that affect their lives.

Because of these workgroup meetings, Graham’s bill is now more acceptable than it ever was before. With the exceptions added we are no longer looking at a ban on everyone under 21. All age shows have been pulled back from the brink of extinction and will be fully allowed for any venue that applies for an “underage endorsement”.

After seeing some progress on the club issue, the discussion took a dire turn when a proposal to make underage drinking in the District a criminal offense. Currently, and for most of DC’s history, underage drinking has been a civil – not a criminal – offense. Individuals who were caught drinking under 21 were given a ticket and fined, but were not thrown in jail and nothing was added to their criminal record. This all would have changed if not for NYRA’s intervention.

The main concern was that club owners were being held accountable and punished for serving drinks to someone underage, but the people buying those drinks rarely faced punishment. These club owners were upset they had to pay the price for someone else trying to break the law and wanted a stronger deterrent to underage drinking within their establishments. NYRA was joined by George Washington University Student Association President Lamar Thorpe in opposing the new change.

The room soon became deadlocked and it was starting to look like the underage drinking criminalization would be added to the bill regardless of our objections. Then Scott Davidson came up with a compromise – criminalize it inside clubs, but leave it decriminalized everywhere else. While not perfect, this was a compromise everyone could accept.

With the bill’s language finalized it will now go to another city council hearing. NYRA intends to follow this bill every step of the way and be present at the hearing. We will inform everyone about the public hearing as soon as we receive information about it. We are making important progress that will yield tangible results for the rights of youth in our nation’s capitol.

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