In the 1980s, the drinking age was 18 in roughly half the US states. That changed when US President Ronald Reagan demanded all states raise the age to 21 or their federal highway construction money would be slashed.
As their budgets were being threatened, the states naturally complied.
Minnesota State Rep Phyllis Kahn wants to fight that decision, and has been pushing for over ten years to get the drinking age lowered to 18 again.
Kahn earned a biophysics PhD from Yale and an MPA from the Kennedy School at Harvard. She is also “known as the mother of Title IX in Minnesota,” state Rep. Joe Atkins told the Washington Post.
Sen. Branden Petersen has announced he will be introducing Kahn’s idea to the state senate. He stated the theory that since 18 is the legal age of adulthood for everything else, is should be the age for drinking as well.
It makes no sense that our own country will deem us responsible to go die in war, but not responsible enough to drink a beer. Either an 18 year old is considered a responsible adult, or not.
The general idea of Kahn’s proposal is that bars and restaurants should serve those aged 18 and higher. Minors who are under the drinking age would also be allowed alcohol in bars and restaurants if they are with a guardian or spouse of legal age. The age to buy alcohol from liquor stores would remain the same.
House Commerce Chairman Joe Hoppe has said he will schedule a hearing for either Kahn’s bills or legislation of his own that would lower the limit to 19, with the extra year serving to ensure that high-school-age kids could not purchase alcohol.
Several university presidents are supporters of Kahn’s idea, believing that bar drinking is a safer alternative to the drinking activities that currently occur on college campuses.
The proposed change is “a very good way to deal with the serious problem of binge drinking, particularly on college campuses,” Kahn told the Washington Post.
Roughly 80,000 die each year due to binge drinking in the U.S. College students have “drunk themselves to death … after friends sent their pals to bed assuming that they would ‘sleep it off,’” a USA Today article said.
Kahn believes she has found a way around the possible loss of federal funding that caused the age to be raised in the first place.
In 2012 decision on Medicaid expansion, the Supreme Court said the federal government cannot threaten to withhold funding in order to force the states to comply with the federal government’s “requests.”
So if Minnesota lowered the drinking age, it is possible they would not face monetary repercussions.
Some disagree with this conclusion, such as Law Professor Sam Bagenstos, from the University of Michigan. He said the Medicaid case “was explicitly based on the unprecedentedly large size of the threat.”
Highway budgets do not make up a huge part of states’ budgets, therefore it is possible the Medicaid ruling may not apply.
“I still think the small amount of funding at stake negates a coercion argument,” law professor Nicole Huberfeld of the University of Kentucky wrote.
Either way, Kahn will have to face the problem of getting constituents’ support to pass the bill before she need worry about possible repercussions.
Hoppe said, “I think it has a chance. I don’t want to say it’s going to pass. I think for a lot of people it’s going to be something they haven’t thought of and, when they first hear it, I think a lot of people will have the reaction of ‘What? We can’t do that.’ But we’ll see.”
An alternative option had been proposed—raising alcohol taxes, specifically on beer which is largely drunk by college students. MADD member Donna Kopec brought attention to the fact that “the five states with the highest beer taxes have half the binge drinking of other states.”
But is punishing all beer consumers, plus the bars and companies that sell them, really the way to go?
Instead of finding ways to make drinking more difficult for young adults, lets give them legal ways to drink that are preferable to binge drinking in a fraternity basement.