Stiffer drinking laws ring in New Year

By CAROL ROSENBERG, United Press International

Arizona, Nebraska and South Carolina toasted 1985 with higher drinking ages while others across the country resolved to enact tougher laws in renewed efforts to stem drunken driving and alcohol-related highway carnage.

Among laws being considered arebans on tavern 'happy hours' modeled after a first-in-the-nation law in Massachusetts, where open champagne bars of past years were prohibited this New Year's Eve.


A new legal minimum drinking age of 21 went into effect New Year's Day in Arizona and Nebraska, while South Carolina increased the drinking age for beer and wine from 19 to 20. The legal age for buying hard liquor in South Carolina remains 21.

At least 11 states plan to consider laws increasing the mininum age to buy liquor. Happy hour bans modeled after the Massachusetts law also are being considered in at least seven states.

Many lawmakers said the new bills were a response to legislation signed by President Reagan on July 17 to reduce federal highway aid to states that refuse to raise the minimum drinking age to 21.


The measure would affect 27 states and the District of Columbia. It also provides for increased federal highway funds to states with mandatory sentencing laws for persons convicted of drunken driving.

Arizona's drinking age jumped from 19 to 21 but the law allows 19- and 20-year-olds to serve liquor in bars and restaurants. It also permits anyone over 16 to sell it in retail stores, a concession that still left some young people unhappy.

'I think a lot of (young) people are angry they're raising the drinking age,' said Kathryn Sefcik, a sophomore at Arizona State University. 'They've been waiting so long to do this legally. Now you can't even dance unless you're 21, unless you go to a teen bar.'

Proposals or plans to increase the drinking age to 21 are expected in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York and Virginia for 1985 legislative sessions.

Masssachusetts' happy hour ban, which took effect Dec. 10, prohibits cut-rate prices and inducements to drink like beer-guzzling contests and events offering free drinks.

'I thought the time had come to end these foolish happy hours. I thought for certain there would be a few more kids around at the end of the year,' said George McCarthy, chairman of the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.


'It made no sense to have a roadblock on a state highway and then a half-mile down the road have a bar that was offering drinks at cheap prices,' he said.

McCarthy said the law has caused a flurry of similar proposals across the nation, McCarthy said.

'It's just been mind-boggling here on the number of calls,' he said. 'I really believe that this is going to become a national issue.'

In Canada, the Ontario Conservative government enacted a similar ban in late December, saying happy hours pushing half-price drinks between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. encouraged people to drink more than usual before driving home after work.

Proposals to clamp down on happy hours -- or eliminate them entirely - also come up for consideration by officials in Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island in 1985.

Pennsylvania state Sen. Edward Early said he would introduce a happy hour ban bill on New Year's Day -- the first day of the 1985-86 legislative session.

'Happy hours by bars and restaurants do nothing more than promote overindulgence and excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages,' Early said. 'The legislation to ban happy hours marks an attempt to prevent the alcohol-related traffic tragedy from occurring.'


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