Bill would lower drinking age in state to 19

The legal drinking age would be only 19 in Wisconsin under a bill circulated by the former president of the Tavern League and two other Republican lawmakers.

The proposal unveiled Wednesday calls for lowering the drinking age from the current minimum of 21 only if Wisconsin would not lose its federal highway funds. A federal law passed in 1984 penalized states with a reduction in federal highway money if they didn’t have a minimum drinking age of 21.

Representatives Adam Jarchow, Cindi Duchow and Rob Swearingen, the former Tavern League president, are circulating the bill.

The bill sponsors say that at age 19 “there are very few things that you cannot do,” but drinking is one of them.

They say lowering the drinking age would negate the need to spend “countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars” enforcing drinking laws, especially on college campuses.

“I think generally speaking, consenting adults should be able to engage in these kind of activities without the government getting in the way. I see no reason why we can send young men and women off to war but they can’t have a beer,” Jarchow said.

The bill will only go into effect if Wisconsin doesn’t lose federal highway funds as a result —
something in which Jarchow is confident.

“Part of the campaign promises that were made by the Republicans in Congress and President Trump was that they were pro-federalism meaning they were pro-devolving federal power back to the states,” Jarchow said.

At a local level, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said he isn’t opposed to the age change as long as educational campaigns, better resources for alcoholism, and a mechanism to get folks in the bar and liquor industry to pay more for policing and those resources are put in place.

“It’s not fair to take it out of the general fund from people living throughout the city who don’t spend a lot of time consuming alcohol in bars,” Soglin said.