New laws may affect Labor Day float
A new law tightening the state's rules on party buses may have some impact on Glenn County's Labor Day float.
Assembly Bill 45, which went into effect Jan. 1, is designed to address the growing popularity of alcohol-fueled parties on privately chartered buses.
About a dozen party busses transported mostly Chico State students to the Sacramento River last year, where more than 40 people were given medical attention, mostly related to excessive alcohol consumption, Glenn County sheriff's officials said.
The body of Brett Olson, 20, of Lafeyette, was found floating in the river south of Scotty's Boat Landing one week after he was reported missing from the event.
The autopsy report concluded Olson drowned and that acute alcohol intoxication and recent cocaine use were contributing factors in his death.
Under the new law, authored by then-Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, chartered party buses carrying minors will be required to have a chaperone at least 25 years old to ensure no underage boozing happens onboard.
"It will be up to this person to take this duty seriously," said California Public Information Officer Tracy Hoover. "They have to know there will be ramifications if they allow underage drinking. They will be responsible."
Bus companies that do not comply with the law can be subject to a $2,000 fine, license suspension or revocation, Hoover said.
The new law was meant to close a loophole in underage drinking laws that have applied to limousines since the late 1880s.
"I think it is a great law," said Glenn County Undersheriff Rich Warren. "Anything we can do to reduce underage drinking is going to help."
Hill introduced the bill last year after a 19-year-old man from Burlingame was killed in an alcohol-related crash immediately after leaving a party bus where he had been drinking heavily.
Underage individuals were also involved in a shocking incident last summer in the Bay Area at which a 25-year old woman was killed after falling out of a party bus on the highway in the midst of a drunken fight, Hoover said.
Each Labor Day, the Glenn County Sheriff's Office and other law enforcement agencies have had their hands full when more than 10,000 young people float down the Sacramento River from Highway 32 near Hamilton City to a spot called Beer Can Beach, about three miles to the south.
Many take beer and other alcoholic beverages with them, Warren said, and many others come off the party busses already intoxicated.
"Alcohol and the cold water are not a good mix," he said.
In the aftermath of Olson's death, California State University, Chico, and local law enforcement agencies have met several times to address the Labor Day float problems.
Warren said proposals are in the works including another attempt at an alcohol ban on the river during the event.
In 2011, the California Legislature passed a law that permitted Glenn and Butte counties to ban open alcoholic beverages and consumption during summer holidays, but both Glenn and Butte County supervisors needed to pass the ban in order for it to become law.
Butte County approved the ordinance, but Glenn County voted against it in a 3-2 vote.
At the time, the ban was presented at as urgency ordinance, Warren said, which may have played a part in its failure.
However, there was also concerns raised about just pushing the problem down river.
"Now that we have the time, there will be plenty of opportunities for open discussions and public hearings," he said. "We expect this to go to the supervisors this year."
The CHP believes more than new laws are needed to curb the culture of alcohol at Chico State and during the Labor Day float.
Hoover said there is a general acceptance of alcohol at the float as if it is a "right of passage" for youth.
That is what Hoover believes needs to change.
"Information is knowledge," she said. "We have to do more to educate these kids about what could happen."
Warren said that while only one person has died as a result of excessive alcohol consumption during the Labor Day float, there have been numerous close calls.
There were more than 60 water rescues by emergency personnel on the river at last year's event, and more than 100 assists, he said.
In Olson's case, no one saw him go under the water.
He was last seen standing in the water near Beer Can Beach, officials said.