BATON ROUGE — For decades, sneaking into bars with fake IDs has been a right of passage for college students in Louisiana. But if Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, has his way, they may no longer need to rely on deceptive methods to get alcohol.
HB 429, proposed by LaFleur, would make it legal for 19- and 20-year-olds to buy and consume alcohol if they obtain a certificate.
“I really believe that 18-year-olds should be able to drink,” LaFleur said in an interview. “It just doesn’t make any sense for people to be going to bars and getting drinks from older guys and having to patrol and regulate that. It just doesn’t work, and everyone knows it doesn’t work. So why do we bury our head in the sand and say it works?”
LaFleur’s bill was scheduled to be heard Tuesday at a hearing Senate Judiciary B Committee, but he deferred consideration of it until next week before it came up for discussion.
His proposal comes at a time when college administrators and many lawmakers are heading in the opposite direction, trying to curb college drinking after the hazing death last September of an LSU fraternity pledge who was forced to drink more than six times the legal alcohol limit.
Another Senate committee approved a bill Tuesday that would allow families to sue for punitive as well as regular damages when hazing deaths occur. The parents of Maxwell Gruver, the LSU pledge who died after a party at the fraternity house, are expected to testify Wednesday at a hearing of a House committee that is considering a bill to increase criminal penalties for hazing.
LaFleur said he hoped the bill would encourage drinking in public places over drinking in private places, citing additional safety advantages and social pressures to behave more responsibly.
“This kid that just died at LSU — of course, that was a sort of a drinking game — I don’t know why if people need to go drink, why you would not want them to drink in a public setting where you’re subject to criticism and the rules of the restaurant and bar,” LaFleur said. “You have a little peer pressure to act appropriately when you drink or not to drink so much that you act inappropriately.”
Louisiana’s drinking age was raised to 21 from 18 in 1986 to avoid losing federal highway dollars, but a loophole made it legal for bars and others to sell alcohol to those under 21, complicating possible enforcement of the law.
In 1996, that loophole was closed. Prior to the change, Louisiana was the last state in the nation to allow 18-year-olds to drink.
LaFleur acknowledged that younger drinkers have riskier habits than older drinkers. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 90 percent of alcohol consumed by those aged 12 to 20 is consumed through binge drinking.
However, LaFleur said this was true for many issues, not just drinking.
“There is empirical evidence that shows younger drinkers are more likely to have issues — get in more wrecks or be less responsible — but that’s true for every young person,” LaFleur said. “They’re always less responsible than an older person. I guess anybody who starts something is not as good as somebody who has been doing it for a long time.”
LaFleur’s bill would create a certificate, called the Louisiana Alcohol Consumption Certificate, and would require alcohol education course in hopes of curbing abuse among recipients.
The course would cover health risks, absorption rates and laws and penalties regarding alcohol consumption. He said the course would not cost more than $100.
“This is the same thing that we require for people who serve alcohol, essentially the same class,” LaFleur said.
LaFleur also said he plans on adding an amendment to his bill requiring parental consent to obtain the certificate. He said he thinks that will increase the bill’s chances of making it out of the committee next week.
“If you drink at a house party, you tend to be less responsible,” he said. “It’s easier to get an opioid or a bag of weed than it is to get freaking alcohol. It’s crazy.”