Lower Drinking Age For Armed Forces Members Rejected

BERLIN — The adage “old enough to go to war but not old enough to have a beer” will remain true in Maryland after a bill in the General Assembly failed to make it out of committee this week.

Senate Bill 213 would have allowed bars and restaurants in Maryland to serve beer and wine to a member of the armed forces who was at least 18 years old and displayed a valid armed forces identification card. However, the bill introduced by Frederick County Senator Ronald Young failed to make it out of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

According to Comptroller’s Office Active Duty Military Strength Report released late last year, there are 21,107 active duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces in Maryland who are older than age 18 but younger than 21.

Current state law prohibits the sale or provision of any alcoholic beverage to a person under the age of 21. Creating a sub-class of eligible active armed service members at least 18 but under 21 would have certainly complicated the carding and identification process for restaurants and bars and their employees, who are already often tested with underage police cadets with often dire consequences. After being introduced during the committee meeting this week, the issue was just too complex and it was given an unfavorable report.

There was also a considerable economic component to the proposed legislation. The Federal Uniform Drinking Act of 1984 ties vast amounts of federal highway funds to the drinking age of 21 in the states. The State Highway Administration (SHA) estimated that, based on fiscal year 2014 data, lowering the drinking age to 18 for armed services men and women would have subjected the state to a loss of $30.7 million in federal highway funds.

The revenue generated by lowering the drinking age to 18 for armed services men and women would be a drop in the bucket, so to speak, compared to the loss in federal highway funds. The fiscal and policy note on Senate Bill 213 estimated an increase of $531,000 annually if the bill had passed.

Prior to the failed committee vote on Wednesday, State Senator Jim Mathias said issue was complex.

“Lowering the drinking age to 21 for armed services members sure would put a lot of federal funds in jeopardy,” he said. “It’s a complicated bill. What about a police officer or a firefighter who is 20 years old? What about them putting their lives at risk for their community every day?”