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Published June 12, 2024

New bill brews drinking debate

If passed, the bill would allow 18- to 20-year-olds to drink in bars and restaurants.

Underage drinking, beloved by many college students, may be moving out of dingy basements and into a new venue: the bar.

A bill authored by Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, would allow 18- to 20-year-olds to drink in bars and restaurants.

The legislation comes in the wake of numerous college-aged binge-drinking deaths in recent months. The reasoning behind the legislation, Kahn said, is to move dangerous binge drinking away from dorm rooms and house parties into a more monitored environment.

“Binge drinking is a new phenomenon and it’s something that didn’t exist when I was in college,” when the drinking age was 18, she said.

With the legal drinking age at 21, it creates more incentive for those who are underage to drink, Kahn said.

“Those extra three years just makes it seem like such a forbidden fruit,” she said. “This is based on the European model of consumption.”

While there may be more drinking in European countries, the problems stemming from binge drinking don’t exist, Kahn said.

Kahn said she received a call from one bartender who was upset he would have to “babysit those kids” in his establishment. But Kahn said bars are already legally bound to serve responsibly.

However, with the packed legislative session nearing its halfway point, Kahn said the bill was designed to spark debate, and would not be passed until next fall at the earliest.

The legislation is a “tough call” and “could be kind of dangerous,” Downtime manager Christopher Shaffner said.

“If it could be done responsibly, it might be a good thing,” he said. “But around colleges, most drinking is fairly irresponsible. Kids are young and that’s what they do.”

Shaffner also said he was skeptical the legislation would curb binge drinking.

“It happens in house parties, it happens at the bar, it’s not like the second people turn 21 they start binge drinking,” he said. “It’s going to happen whether we can control it here in the bar or not.”

Shaffner also said it could take years for society to adjust to the new law, and could bring out-of-state visitors to take advantage of relaxed drinking regulations.

“People would come for weekend trips from Wisconsin or South Dakota,” he said. “Kids from other states would probably cross borders just to get drunk, and that can be dangerous.”

Sgt. Preston’s manager Mark Hobben echoed Shaffner, saying he’s not sure society is ready for such legislation.

Still, Hobben said it would likely benefit his bar.

“It’d have a positive impact on our business,” he said. “The more customers that I get, based upon it, I think it’d be a positive.”

Seeing both sides of the issue, Hobben said he thinks the monitored nature of bars and restaurants could cut down dangerous drinking, although it may not be an answer to the whole problem.

“You have hired staff and personnel that are there monitoring the consumption,” he said. “But there’s always a way around it.”

Despite reports that drinking in bars led to some of the college students’ alcohol-related deaths, communications sophomore Will Holland said the legislation could help stave off dangerous binge drinking.

“Bartenders or people could cut kids off, obviously, if they’re getting a little crazy,” he said. “No bartender’s going to let a kid drink 10 shots.”

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