Bill to hold bars accountable for serving minors alcohol, fails

Mother Ashley Baustert and daughter Madison Brooks

BATON ROUGE – Despite a passionate testimony from Ashley Baustert, the mother of LSU student Madison Brooks, the House Judiciary Committee shot down a bill that was dear to her heart.

The bill, authored by Sen. Beth Mizell, was aimed at holding bars responsible for serving people under 21. However, the committee voted 6-6 to defer the bill with those opposed citing potentially increased insurance rates for bars and believable fake IDs would make bartenders striving to do the right thing open to legal action.

“Since 1996, the law in Louisiana has said that 21 is the legal age to drink,” Mizell said. “The bill originally wanted to make it that only people that were legal drinking age could enter a bar. We changed the bill, necessarily because of the opposition. And now we’re trying to make it clear that it affects bars that serve a minor, which basically is in itself breaking the law and then the minor is harmed or causes harm to the third party.”

According to authorities, Brooks, 19, was allegedly raped by two men after leaving Reggie’s Bar in Tigerland near LSU. Then, police say, she was dropped off by the side of the road, where she was hit by a vehicle and died from her injuries.

Brooks’ blood-alcohol content was 0.319, police say, nearly 16 times the legal limit for anyone under 21. In addition, three of the four perpetrators arrested in connection to the case were under 21.

“Three of the perpetrators in this act of violence were under 21 and never should have been in the bar in the first place,” Baustert said in her address to the committee. “Numerous violations occurred that night, all involving underage drinking and serving, which could have been prevented. Our current system failed my daughter, which helped to facilitate her rape, and ultimately caused her life.”

The bill changed shape considerably during the legislative session but wasn’t enough for some legislators.

“The minor who knew they were doing something wrong, has a drink, leaves and either injures themselves or injure somebody else, and they’re not responsible,” said Rep. Alan Seabaugh. “The bar owner is who didn’t know he was doing anything wrong. I have a real problem with that. You’re protecting the bad actor. That’s the part that I have a problem with. There’s got to be some way to fix this and this is not it.”

Rep. Mandie Landry, Rep. Edmond Jordan and Rep. Jason Hughes all opposed the bill and for different reasons. Landry said the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control is responsible for ensuring the bars are following the rules of not serving people under 21.

Jordan spoke about his concerns of bartenders being responsible even if a sophisticated fake ID fooled them. Hughes raised concerns about the insurance premiums spiking for the “mom-and-pop” bars.

“More than 40 states have a form of dram shop law that holds bars responsible for their actions, but here in Louisiana, we place the highest amount of responsibility on the least responsible party in the transaction,” Mizell said in a news release after the bill failed. “As a culture, we stand aside and accept the consequences of underage drinking. How many people need to lose their lives or be severely injured by an underage drinker before the legislature takes action?”

Brooks family reaction

Madison Brooks’ family will not give up pushing for change despite the bill failing.

“Despite the opposition we faced this session, we are prepared to continue pushing for changes,” Baustert said. “Our current system failed my daughter. The bars are not regulating underage drinking, and Madi’s case supports that. Madi was over-served by individuals who knew she was under 21. We are prepared to fight this war and feel confident positive changes are underway.”

Madison Brooks’ grandmother says she feels let down with how things ended with the bill. Mandy Leblanc said she felt the legislators were more concerned with supporting the bar owners and not saving lives.

“As a grandmother, it is quite upsetting to see this watered-down bill fail in the House Judiciary Committee. It’s hard to understand how you are allowed to serve alcohol in a bar and enter a bar but are not allowed to drink until the age of 21,” she said. “The bill passed in the Senate with little opposition, therefore I felt that before the bill was brought to vote, most of the legislators’ minds were already made up.”

Voted in favor of Mizell’s proposed bill to hold bars responsible

Rep. Randall L. Gaines, D-LaPlace

Rep. Kathy Edmonson, R-Gonzales

Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville

Rep. Sherman Q. Mack, R-Albany

Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, R-Hammond

Rep. Charles Owen, R-Rosepine

Voted against

Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport

Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans

Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Baton Rouge

Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans

Rep. Joseph A. Orgeron, R-Larose

Rep. Thomas A. Pressly, R-Shreveport

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