Bill could put an end to ‘power hour’

The bill aimed at ending celebratory binging passed in the House and Senate.

Than Tibbetts

For his 21st birthday, electrical engineering junior Mark Young followed the midnight ritual for many young adults: He went to the bar.

Along with his boss and a few friends, Young downed beer and some shots provided by his friends at Stub & Herbs early Tuesday.

As a new bill approaches Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s desk, the ritual might soon end as state legislators seek to squelch dangerous binge drinking by people turning the legal drinking age.

Both the Senate and the House passed the state’s omnibus liquor bill in the last week, which includes a provision designed to eliminate “power-hour” festivities, in which newly legal drinkers try to consume 21 alcohol shots between midnight and closing time.

The bill would ban new 21 year olds from consuming or purchasing alcohol until 8 a.m. on their birthday.

Critics of the bill said it is one more example of government regulation and that its intrusion is getting out of hand.

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, authored the bill and said a couple of tragic incidents spurred him to introduce the legislation.

“A little over a year ago, one of our students at Minnesota State University-Moorhead engaged in a power-hour celebration and died as a result of alcohol poisoning,” he said.

Young said he thinks the government has gone too far when it tries to change the definition of a person’s birthday.

“I think it’s bull that they can all of a sudden define when your birthday is,” he said.

Another bar patron lamented the loss of a person’s special day.

“Your birthday is the holiday just for you,” theater senior Jen Dickenson said. “I think the government trying to take away your birthday is so sad.”

Young said that if he had not been able to go to the bar on his 21st birthday, he would probably have drank at home instead of staying in the controlled setting of a bar.

Lanning, who worked for approximately four decades at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., said he understands the dynamic of college students and birthdays.

“Obviously, people who want to drink to excess are still going to do it,” Lanning said. “But both of our incidences happened in a bar.”

Jon Landers, manager at Stub & Herbs, said the bill would hurt business at the bar.

“We do see quite a few different power hours, and it’s quite a bit of business for us,” he said. “We’ve never had any legal trouble because of (power-hour celebrations).”

Landers said the bill will add to the pain of losing business to the smoking ban in Hennepin County.

North Dakota enacted similar legislation this year, and Lanning said he also wanted to prevent North Dakota students from crossing state lines to attempt a power hour in Minnesota.

Lanning said he hopes the bill will call attention to the greater issue of binge drinking.

For people aged 18 to 25, Minnesota ranked fifth in the nation in binge drinking, which was defined as five or more drinks on one occasion, according to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health.