Minnesota Opinion: Minnesota should not lower the drinking age
From Forum News Service A recent editorial from a Midwest newspaper. Minnesota should not lower the drinking age Politics ain't beanbag, and neither is it baseball, in which the rule is "Three strikes, and you're out." Still, the three strikes th...
From Forum News Service
A recent editorial from a Midwest newspaper.
Minnesota should not lower the drinking age
Politics ain’t beanbag, and neither is it baseball, in which the rule is “Three strikes, and you’re out.”
Still, the three strikes that are dogging a Minnesota effort to lower the drinking age to 18 seem more than enough to doom the proposal. Lawmakers who support the change should retreat, recalculate how to put together a winning plan and renew their push at a later time. Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, is leading the reform charge. A longtime supporter of lowering the drinking age, Kahn makes the traditional claim that letting 18-year-olds consume alcohol would lower the incidence of high-risk drinking.
But one other key factor has changed, Kahn says: The federal government has lost the sword it has held over states’ heads to force all 50 to keep the drinking age at 21.
That sword has been the feds’ power over highway funding. Since 1984, a federal law has threatened a big cut in federal highway money if a state lowered its drinking age.
Now, though, a U.S. Supreme Court decision in an Obamacare-related case has neutered that threat, Kahn says. So, she says, the way is clear for proposals such as hers to move through the Minnesota Legislature.
Well ... Not so fast.
First, the 1984 law can’t be counted out. The Supreme Court ruling that Kahn references struck down the government’s ability to tie Medicaid funding to a state’s Obamacare decisions.
But did that ruling sever highway-funding linkages, too?
Probably not, The Washington Post concluded last week.
“Several law professors said that Kahn’s interpretation of the law probably won’t hold up in court,” the Post reported.
As University of Michigan law professor Sam Bagenstos put it, “I don’t think they have much of a case at all.”
David Orentlicher, law professor at Indiana University, agreed, noting that a successful challenge by Kahn “would result in dramatic upheaval,” the Post reported.
“The federal government attaches conditions to all kinds of funding, from health care to education to transportation. ... Orentlicher predicts that the Supreme Court would be reluctant to take away this important tool for making policy at a national level. ‘That would be a huge limitation on federal powers,’ he said.”
Second, the public-health research comes down almost entirely on the age-21 side.
“One hundred of the 102 analyses in a 2002 meta-study of the legal drinking age and traffic accidents found higher legal drinking ages associated with lower rates of traffic accidents,” the website ProCon.org notes.
“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that setting the legal drinking age at 21 decreased the number of fatal traffic accidents for 18- to 20-year-olds by 13 percent and saved approximately 27,052 lives from 1975-2008.
“In a 2002 meta-study, 87 percent of the analyses found higher legal drinking ages associated with lower alcohol consumption.” And so on.
Third, the public wants the drinking age to stay the same. “Thirty years after federal legislation established 21 as a uniform minimum age to drink alcohol in all states, Americans are widely opposed to lowering the legal drinking age to 18,” Gallup reported last year.
“Seventy-four percent say they would oppose such legislation, while 25 percent would favor it.”
Three strikes. The argument’s out.
Federal law isn’t the real holdup. The research findings are. If Kahn and other supporters lose the vote in the Legislature, they should figure out how to rebut those findings. Can they prove that lowering the drinking age also will lower the incidence of high-risk drinking?
If they can, they should do so. For if their evidence is strong enough, then its weight will cause not only public opinion to change but also the 1984 federal law to fall.
- Grand Forks Herald