South Dakota lawmaker pushes to lower drinking age

| 8/3/2009

In an effort to make roadways safer, a South Dakota state lawmaker is taking a different path.

Rep. Tim Rounds, R-Pierre, isn’t calling for legislation to limit driver distractions or put restrictions on young drivers. Instead, he would like to reduce the state’s drinking age in certain instances if it doesn’t mean sacrificing federal highway money. He wants to allow people under 21 to drink in controlled settings, such as bars or with adults.

At risk for the state is $17.5 million annually in federal funding if it lowers the drinking age. Rounds said he believes there is a loophole in the mandate that might allow the state to make a switch allowing teens as young as 19 or 18 to drink.

Rounds, who is the brother of Gov. Michael Rounds, says he is willing to try something different because the majority of teens already are drinking at house parties or country roads and then getting behind the wheel. He would prefer they do it legally, in a controlled environment.

Critics say Rep. Rounds’ proposal would lead to more young people in bars and driving to and from bars, leading to more highway deaths.

The proposal would authorize drinking beer, but not hard liquor, in bars. Under-age adults wouldn’t be allowed to buy beer in stores.

South Dakota raised the minimum drinking age in 1987. The federal government approved a rule three years earlier requiring states to set the age at 21.

Any effort to change the drinking age in South Dakota couldn’t be considered until the 2010 regular session convenes.

To view other legislative activities of interest for South Dakota in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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