Sticking up for Amendment 10

I came across an interesting story today from the state of Vermont. Yesterday a State Senate committee there passed a bill to create a task force to study the effects of lowering Vermont’s legal drinking age to 18. The sponsor of the bill, State Senator Hinda Miller, called it an effort to bring the underage drinking on college campuses out of the shadows:

“Our laws aren’t working. They’re not preventing underage drinking. What they’re doing is putting it outside the public eye,” Vermont state Sen. Hinda Miller said. “So you have a lot of kids binge drinking. They get sick, they get scared and they get into trouble and they can’t call because they know it’s illegal.”

On that note, read on below the fold…

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Obviously if a bill such as this came to Maryland it would have a lot of support from the SU student community and local watering holes like The Monkey Barrel or the Cactus Club. Opposing it would be local law enforcement and college-area neighborhood groups.

But my point isn’t really on the merits or drawbacks of lowering the drinking age to 18. They actually raised the drinking age to 19 in Ohio just before I turned 18, which pretty much pissed me off, but managed to wait until just after I turned 21 to raise it to that age. No, the portion that appealed to me about the story was this small effort to restore state’s rights in this country, and a short history is in order.

In my native state of Ohio, there was a statewide ballot issue back in 1983 to raise the drinking age from 19 to 21, an effort that failed by a 59% – 41% margin. (Having just turned 19, you can pretty much guess which way I voted.) In raw numbers the difference was over 600,000 votes. I was among over 1.9 million voters in the Buckeye State who clearly stated that their will was to keep the age as it was at the time. But three years later the people’s choice was thwarted by a federal bill called the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. Passed in 1984, Congress compelled states to raise their drinking age to 21 lest they lose federal highway funding and Ohio decided to forefit that right of self-determination in 1986. Seeing the option ratified by the people of my state thrown out because the federal government thought they knew best was an important lesson in politics that further galvanized my political views.

And this option is not without risk for Vermont should they choose to follow through all the way with it. At stake is their $17 million of highway funding that the federal government provides to Vermont’s state government and in an era of budget shortfalls throughout the country that money is going to yell really loud.

However, much ado has been made of late about cutting earmarks from the federal budget while little attention is paid about these infringements on the Tenth Amendment rights states have to determine their own laws. If the federal government would stop being a passthru for funds that they simply deliver back to the states, untold millions would be saved. But the problem lies with those inside the Beltway who really enjoy having the power to make states squirm and bend to their will by threatening to withhold federal funds if they don’t adopt particular laws and regulations Washington bureaucrats foist upon them.

While the idea of lowering the drinking age may or may not appeal to those reading here today, I think we should all encourage the state of Vermont to make this stand against federal laws that unjustly usurp their rights of self-determination.

Crossposted on monoblogue.

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