Three Wisconsin legislators introduced legislation Wednesday that would lower the legal drinking age in Wisconsin to 19, but it faces strong opposition from both state legislators and advocacy groups.
The bill introduced by Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, Rep. Cindi Duchow, R-Town of Delafield and Rep. Rob Swearingen, R-Rhinelander, is being proposed as a “common-sense perspective” on the legal drinking age and a potential money-saver.
Duchow’s research assistant Alicia Dorsett, said Duchow thinks if an individual is able to join the military, they should be able to drink.
“Representative Duchow believes if somebody is able to sign up to join the military and serve our country and be sent to the Middle East, they should also be able to have an alcoholic beverage,” Dorsett said.
A memo circulated by the three lawmakers to their legislative colleagues stressed the burden of the state’s drinking age.
“Countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars go into enforcing drinking laws in this state, especially on college campuses,” the memo said.
By lowering the drinking age, the legislators hope the hours and money could be relocated to other areas of need, like drug abuse, sexual assault and education on alcohol for young people.
Federal law punishes states which elect to reduce their drinking age below 21 with a potential 8 percent reduction in federal highway funding, or a loss of $53.7 million for the state of Wisconsin. To avoid this, the bill has language which requires for its own passage that federal highway funding not be reduced.
But certain Republican legislators and advocacy groups are not in support of the legislation.
Currently, both Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Gov. Scott Walker are opposed to the bill, Dorsett said.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a nonprofit organization with aims to eliminate drunk driving, has come out in opposition to the proposal as well. They cited a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study which estimates more than 500 additional lives would be lost to drunk driving if the drinking age was lowered.
“It would be irresponsible and quite frankly hard to understand why anyone would support, or even condone, an action that would bring about such horrific results as this,” MADD regional director Doug Scoles said in an email to The Badger Herald.
Total alcohol consumption in the state is 1.3 times the national rate, according to a study done by the Department of Health Services. Similarly, underage binge-drinking in Wisconsin is 1.2 times greater than the U.S. as a whole.
The legislators chose the age of 19 so as not to introduce alcohol to young adults still in high school, the memo said.
For Jarchow, the legal drinking age is another battleground where the debate of states’ rights unfolds, his legislative assistant Roy Johnson said.
A strong guiding force behind the bill is the belief that states are where legislation should take place “instead of the federal government bribing the states to do what they would like,” Johnson said.
The bill is circulating for cosponsorship until Nov. 17.