By Natalie Anderson, The Advocate
A Louisiana senator says lowering the legal age to buy alcohol would remove its allure for minors and help combat binge drinking that sometimes turns deadly on college campuses. The legal age is now 21.
Senate Bill 429 would allow 19- and 20-year-olds to buy and consume alcohol if they obtain a certificate and parental consent. “We have a problem with 19 and 20-year-olds drinking all over the place — with fake IDs, getting into bars, getting older people to buy their drinks,” said Sen. Eric LaFleur, SB429’s sponsor. “Because it’s illegal, for whatever reason, it’s almost as if it’s forbidden and you have to overdo it. I think that’s why we have such a high level of binge drinking in the United States.” Chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, LaFleur last week postponed a scheduled hearing on SB429. It was not on the agenda for Monday’s meeting of Senate Judiciary B Committee. The Ville Platte Democrat says he’s unsure of the support for the bill, but has heard from people getting behind the measure. His legislation comes at a time when college administrators and some lawmakers are pushing against college drinking following the hazing death of LSU pledge Maxwell Gruver last September.
The alleged hazing centered on the excessive consumption of alcohol, and Gruver’s blood alcohol content was six times over the legal limit to drive when he died. LaFleur, a Democrat from Ville Platte, said more people wouldn’t consume alcohol than already do, adding he hopes proper education will help 19- and 20-year-olds drink responsibly. LaFleur said the proposal is an extension of current law, as parental consent would still be required, but parents would not need to be physically there. The certificate would serve as an educational component for 19- and 20-year-olds, explaining the implications and potential consequences of consuming alcohol irresponsibly. LaFleur said the certificate contains a curriculum similar to that of the responsible vendor program used by alcohol servers in Louisiana. Current law allows minors to drink in the presence of their parents.
The National Minimum Drinking Age Act, passed in 1984, raised the legal drinking age to 21 as a condition of receiving annual federal highway funds. Louisiana was the last state in the U.S. to have a legal drinking age of 18. Up until 1987, state law allowed 18-year-olds to buy and consume alcohol, and a state sales loophole allowed them to consume alcohol until 1995.
The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that raising the drinking age to 21 was unconstitutional because it was age discrimination, noting that 18-years-old were legally considered adults. However, the court reversed its decision later that year after Louisiana faced threats of a removal of highway funds and a spike in drunk-driving deaths. LaFleur said his proposal would not serve as a loophole to the federal act, but rather just an extension of current state law, so the state shouldn’t lose any federal highway funds. LaFleur also emphasized that like current law, this proposal should be treated as a privilege — not a right — to enjoy alcohol like adults do.