State News

State legislators push to let 19 year-olds drink

Image By: Betsy Osterberger and Betsy Osterberger

Already one of the booziest states in the union, Wisconsin could allow residents as young as 19 to belly up to the bar and walk through liquor stores under proposed legislation.

The bill, introduced by three Republican state legislators, would set Wisconsin apart from the rest of the country by lowering the drinking age from the federally-mandated 21 to 19.

Wisconsin’s alcohol regulation policies already stand out nationally, as minors are allowed to consume alcohol with a guardian of legal age.

Departing from federal standards, however, does not come free: States that do so lose crucial federal money. In Wisconsin, that loss could amount to over $50 million per year.

"At 19 years old, there are very few things that you cannot do," state Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, told colleagues in a memo seeking their support. “They are adults eligible for military service, but cannot ‘enjoy an alcoholic beverage,’" he said.

Jarchow pushed for 19, as opposed to the popular European alternative of 18, to ensure that drinking would not become a distraction for high school students.

The bill’s other co-sponsors include state Reps. Rob Swearingen, R-Rhinelander and former president of the Tavern League of Wisconsin, and. Rep. Cindi Duchow, R-Delafield.

Jarchow also emphasized that no longer having to enforce federal alcohol standards would significantly cut law enforcement costs.

"Those efforts could be used for other important issues such as drug abuse and sexual assaults," Jarchow added.

The legislation includes a clause that would only it take effect if the state could avoid losing its federal funds, which makes the prospect of its implementation bleak.

On top of that, the measure is opposed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who heavily influences the chamber’s legislative agenda.

Beyond procedural difficulty, some experts believe the measure would actively harm the 19-year-olds it would allow to drink legally.

“I think the larger story is the link between alcohol, excessive drinking, and cancer, which appears to be pretty indisputable,” said Julia Sherman, coordinator of the Alcohol Policy Project.

“We know that the younger a person begins to drink, the more likely they are to have alcohol-related problems in their future.”

The bill is unlikely to attract much support under current conditions.

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