Thursday, April 10, 2014

Inconsistent Message In Social Host Bill

I'm not a fan of the social host bill just passed by the Legislature and certain to be signed by the governor. But in the fine print of the legislative process, there's a hint to the point I've been arguing all along.

The bill would hold "social hosts" (parents, homeowners, names on the lease, etc.) criminally liable for underage drinking on the premises, with a $200 misdemeanor fine.

But here's where it gets interesting. The bill as originally drafted fined hosts for drinkers under 21. But House Republicans - and I recognize the irony that I'm taking the House Republicans side here - changed that to 18, and the Democratic-run Senate was willing to accept that on a unanimous vote.

This is a rare open acknowledgement that there's a difference between college aged adults drinking and high school students drinking. It's an admission that the 21 year old drinking age isn't really about 19 and 20 year olds. It's about 16 and 17 year olds. Three years worth of adults have fewer rights than other adults in order to create a cultural barrier until their younger friends age out of high school.

It's a confession that 21 is unenforceable. It's a pretty open statement about our societal double standard that it's OK, or at least less bad and more culturally acceptable, to drink when you're old enough to vote, as long as you're low key about it.

Low key about it? Ames, you're doing it wrong.

So we're going to punish social hosts for some illegal drinking but not all illegal drinking? And my logical solution of one consistent age doesn't look like it was discussed.

We're left again with our bizarre, bifurcated, uniquely American dual age of adulthood, with 18 constitutionally locked in for voting but alcohol counter-productively singled out for 21, as the ultimate symbol of adulthood. 

I'm close on giving up on ever expecting that contradiction to change, but I'll point it out when I see it. And this example is especially glaring.

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