Island teens testify at State House
A group of Jamestown students went to the state house to testify in favor of H-7173, a bill introduced by Rep. Bruce Long (R-Jamestown, Middletown), which would ban alcohol advertising on billboards.
Long got the idea for the bill after attending a Jamestown Substance Abuse Task Force meeting where several teens opened a discussion about a beer advertisement on a billboard visible from the bus route to North Kingstown High School.
"I felt that if it was important enough for them to bring up for discussion at the meeting, that it was important enough for me to take their concerns seriously and try to do something positive about it," Long said. "When you see something wrong, you need to step up and do something about it."
Two Jamestown teens, Jessica Bucklin and Eric von Hohenleiten, spoke in favor of the bill, in addition to Task Force Coordinator Laura Hosley.
Testifying in front of a committee can be a daunting task for adults, but for the teens speaking in front of bill opponents, including Steven Brown of the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as representatives from Anheuser- Busch, McLoughlin-Moran, and billboard company Lamar, the pressure is immense.
"The kids did not have to speak up in such a scary situation," Hosley said. "They were a little nervous, but once they started speaking they sounded great."
Long said 25 people were present to testify or view the hearing, which is an unusually high number, and the hearing lasted approximately one hour.
"The committee listened to them and they were impressed with their comments, their demeanor, and their maturity," Long said.
Other community task force coordinators, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, RI Student Assistance Services, and some concerned citizens also stated that they were in favor of the bill and some testified before the committee.
"Rhode Island fortunately has been the recipient of $2.54 million in funding this year to work on substance abuse prevention issues," Hosley said. "However, it wouldn't even be enough to buy a 30-second ad for the Super Bowl. This is what we are up against."
In the end, the bill was held for further study because of Constitutional issues surrounding the case. "The bottom line is that this is a business issue and the courts are supporting the right to free speech," Long said.
Long, however, sees the opportunity to work with the billboard and advertising companies proactively to bring about a good outcome for everyone involved. "I think that even though the bill did not go through, it has created a way for us to dialog with the companies that have billboards in critical areas and ask if they will voluntarily restrict alcohol advertising in sensitive areas." Long said. "If we can't get it passed legislatively, I hope we can negotiate to bring about positive change."
Hosley also said that she saw the upside of the process despite the outcome.
"Bringing the issue to the table and seeing it through is success in itself," Hosley said.