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Illinois college students might get to sip some booze in cooking classes

There can be lot talk about over glass red wine.  |  File photo

There can be a lot to talk about over a glass of red wine. | File photo

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Updated: April 29, 2012 8:19AM

SPRINGFIELD — Underage drinking on college campuses is no big secret, but Illinois lawmakers moved a step closer Tuesday to permitting students under 21 to try alcohol — sort of.

A bill that would allow culinary students 18 years or older to sample alcoholic beverages during cooking projects sailed through a Senate panel by a 12-1 margin and now moves to the full Senate.

Dubbed by its backers the “sip-and-spit bill,” the initiative of several colleges with culinary schools specifies that a student who is 18 or above and “tastes, but does not imbibe, alcoholic liquor for instructional purposes” is not in violation of state law if he or she is supervised by an instructor who is 21 or older.

The measure sponsored by Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago) also states that students can only be given alcohol during regularly scheduled and required courses, and any alcohol provided would have to remain in possession of the instructor afterward.

The purpose behind the push, backers said, is to teach students under 21 how to cook with wine and spirits and how to pair the right drinks with appropriate meal offerings.

Emily Knight, president of Kendall College and a proponent of the bill, said similar measures exist in several other states and would improve job prospects of grads at her Chicago campus’ culinary school.

“It prepares our students,” she said. “It’s the competitiveness, and it’s also making sure that they have the skillset to go out in the workforce in Illinois and be competitive in these areas.”

She said about 1,100 Kendall students are enrolled in the culinary and hospitality programs.

The measure advanced despite concerns from anti-drinking advocates about the frequency of alcohol tastings as well as actually keeping students from guzzling liquor on the sly.

“We’re concerned that even though it says they’re not going to swallow, how are you going to stop them from doing so?” said Anita Bedell, executive director of Illinois Church Action on Alcohol & Addiction Problems.

“What they’re doing, they’re making an exemption for [students under 21]. If this goes through, it could open the door for many more,” she added.

The lone down-vote in committee came from Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington).

Trotter said a future amendment could specify a cap on the number of times students would be given alcohol during a course. Knight said she would be in favor of putting that number at six.

“This isn’t six tastings in one day we’re talking about,” Trotter added. “So if we had that clarity, and it would make it easier to swallow for members, then we could certainly put it there.”

Violators of any provisions in the law are guilty of a class A misdemeanor, which can result in a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail. The bill is SB 758.

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