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Doherty earns honor for work to curb underage drinking

Tigard’s local legislator Margaret Doherty was recognized last week for her work to end underage drinking.

Doherty — a Democrat from Tigard who represents District 35 in the Oregon House of Representatives — was awarded the 2014 Leadership Award by the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility.

Doherty sponsored HB 4094, a law that provides immunity to underage drinkers if they were charged while seeking medical assistance for alcohol poisoning.Doherty

The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility is a nonprofit funded by alcohol distillers across the country. The organization works to fight drunken driving and underage drinking.

Doherty’s bill — which was signed into law in February 2014 — hopes to give young people suffering from alcohol poisoning the care they need.

“A minor in possession charge is a class B violation, on par with a speeding ticket,” Doherty told The Times in February. “Kids don’t know that, and it’s a real deterrent” to getting help.

Under previous state law, Doherty argued, young people could face possession charges if they seek medical attention during an alcohol-related emergency. Doherty said this led many teens to avoid medical treatment, leading to alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol poisoning kills about 5,000 underage drinkers each year. About one college student dies from alcohol poisoning in Oregon.

Similar bills have been passed in more than a dozen states, but Doherty’s bill wasn’t without opposition.

Sheriff’s associations and district attorneys worried the bill might minimize the severity of underage drinking, and said that it would not have a strong enough education component.

The award was announced Dec. 18.

Ralph Blackman, the group’s president and CEO, called Doherty a “tireless advocate” and said she deserved the honor because of her strong stance on preventing alcohol abuse.

"We can't thank the representative enough for her dedication and leadership to prevent underage drinking,” he said. “It's critical to send a clear and consistent message that underage drinking is illegal and will not be tolerated, and it is also critical to ensure that binge drinking doesn't result in tragic deaths. Hopefully, this law will save lives when medical emergencies occur. We look forward to expanding our relationship and continuing to save lives in the future with Representative Doherty."

Doherty is one of 19 state legislators from across the country awarded the Leadership Award for their work to end drunk driving and underage drinking.

The list of legislators includes delegates from Maryland; state senators from Louisiana, Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, South Dakota and Virginia; and state representatives from Georgia, Wyoming, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Tennessee, Maine and Idaho.

Doherty was the only legislator from Oregon to be recognized this year.

The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility recognizes state legislators for their work every year.

“We have spent more than two decades fighting drunk driving and underage drinking, and we’re proud of the fact that both drunk driving fatalities and instances of underage drinking are at all-time lows,” Blackman said. “Each of the individuals recognized today have played a crucial role in making our roads safer and our kids healthier. The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility couldn’t do its job without the help and effort of each and every one of these legislators, and we applaud their tireless efforts to better their communities."

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