Legal Loopholes in Some States Allow Minors to Drink Alcohol

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This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, September 22, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: You may have heard of this, lots of dads crack open a beer with their sons as a rite of passage. And some parents simply want to supervise their child's first experience with alcohol. In some places, believe it or not, that's perfectly legal.

Heather Nauert is here with more on that.

HEATHER NAUERT, FNC CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, if you think you have to be 21 years old to buy booze or legally drink, you're wrong. At least six states have exceptions to the minimum drinking age.

In Georgia, for example, kids can buy booze for religious services. In Minnesota, it's okay to buy it for research. And in Wisconsin, minors only have to belly up to the bar with ma and pa to drink legally.

Joining me now from Green Bay, Wisconsin is state Representative John Ainsworth (search). And that's today's big question. Why is it that underage kids in Wisconsin can legally drink?

JOHN AINSWORTH (R) WISCONSIN STATE REPRESENTATIVE: I think there are people who assume that it is best that young people experience the effects of alcohol while in the company of their parents. Certainly there's some validity to that argument, but I think that there's ample time to do that within the home and after the age of 18, which is a part of my legislation.

NAUERT: So let me get this straight. In the state of Wisconsin, I have a 13-year-old brother, as a matter of fact. So, my 13- year-old brother could go into a bar with my dad and can order a Jack and Coke, and be served that and can drink that, is that right?

AINSWORTH: They can possess and consume. Purchase, possess and consume alcohol at any age, as long as they're accompanied by a parent, guardian, or spouse of legal age.

NAUERT: And you are against this law in Wisconsin. What do you hope to do?

AINSWORTH: Well, I would hope that we would confine this sort of activity to the home where parents have their children under more close scrutiny or to young people who are over the age of 18. We find that at the age of 18, we are much better equipped to handle the effects of alcohol than we are at a younger age.

NAUERT: Now if you want to change the current law to allow kids 18, 19, 20 and 21 to be able to legally drink alcohol, let's just say in a bar, for example, how is that actually an improvement upon existing law, because pretty much every place else you do have to be 21?

AINSWORTH: Well, it is an improvement because now you could actually consume alcohol at any age in a bar when accompanied by your parents, guardian or spouse of legal age. And so to limit it to those 18 and older, certainly I think is a big improvement.

NAUERT: But some people might actually say 18 is just entirely too young also. How do you respond to that?

AINSWORTH: There are those in our society who think it's important that young people experience the effects of alcohol in the company of their parents. The only opportunity to do that, outside of the home, would be if they are allowed to do that before they reach the age of 18 and are completely on their own. So, therefore, they could experience the effects of alcohol while under some supervision.

NAUERT: Now I understand that some organizations, including the National Restaurant Association (search) in Wisconsin are actually against your legislation. On what ground do they say they're opposing what you hope to do?

AINSWORTH: They think that the experience of — and quoting them, "learning to drink" is important under the supervision of parents. I think there's ample time to do that between 18 and 21. There's also ample opportunity to do that within the home.

NAUERT: Now a lot of folks might kind of chuckle and say, “All right, this is Wisconsin. People drink in Wisconsin. It's cold there. Maybe there's not a lot else to do.” I can say that because I've got family there. But is that what it's all about, that it's just this beer state and that people embrace drinking there so much?

AINSWORTH: I think Wisconsin is much more than a drinking state. We have so many better stories to tell… we should be emphasizing something other than the state where everyone can drink.

NAUERT: OK. Well, thank you so much Representative Ainsworth for your time. Good luck to you.

Now in order to get full highway funds, states had to raise the drinking age to 21 by 1998. Every single state had done this. But according to various federal agencies, no states have lost their highway funding because of loopholes like the ones in Wisconsin.

GIBSON: Wisconsin, who knew?


GIBSON: Who knew?

AINSWORTH: Heather, thank you very much.

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