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Measure To Allow Breathalyzers in Wis. Schools Advances

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The Wisconsin House is expected this week to vote on a bill that would allow schools to test students for alcohol use.

The bill gives public school officials authority to order that a breath test be used on students suspected of being under the influence of alcohol on school property.

Republican Reps. Stephen J. Freese and Mark A. Green introduced the bill last month; last week, the House education committee passed the measure 12-2.

Rep. Freese said that he and Rep. Green had worked closely over the past two years with students on issues involving juvenile delinquency. "We realized we had to do something to stop" students from drinking, Mr. Freese said.

Under the bill, schools would be required to have a written policy for disciplining students who either refuse to submit to breath tests or who test positive for alcohol use. Tests would be administered at the schools by law-enforcement officers who have their own equipment or by trained personnel on portable machines that cost between $312 and $350 each, Rep. Freese said.

Terry Crayne, the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council in Madison, said last week that the union had yet to take an official position on the bill.

"Some of these solutions are cosmetic in nature without addressing issues like parental involvement," Mr. Crayne said.

Other Approaches

Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat and a member of the education committee, said last week that she was skeptical that breath tests were the best approach for schools to take to battle teenage drinking.

Ms. Baldwin, who voted against the bill, said the committee discussed issues of enforcement, equipment, and training. "This is a disciplinary approach rather than an educational or treatment approach toward discouraging alcohol use," she said.

Officials in the 19,500-student Green Bay school district said they have a strong policy against drug and alcohol use, along with an intervention program that has been in place for more than a decade.

Daniel Nerad, the district's assistant superintendent of curriculum, said those measures have had an impact.

He added that although the pending legislation is "a bill brought forward with the right spirit in mind, we have not felt the need for additional diagnostic tools like Breathalyzers."

Rep. Freese and and others who support the bill are working to get it passed by March, when the legislative session ends. If the House approves the bill this week, it will move on to consideration in the Senate.

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