AWARE Supports Bill That Would End Kids Drinking in Bars with Parents
MADISON – A University of Wisconsin pediatrician and others Wednesday urged state legislators to end the dubious Wisconsin tradition of allowing children to drink alcohol in taverns and restaurants as long as their parents are present.
Supporters at a Capitol hearing said Senate Bill 30 is "a step in the right direction" of changing Wisconsin's culture of drinking because it would ban children younger than 18 from drinking alcohol in licensed premises. Under the bill, people between the ages of 18 and 21 could drink alcohol if a parent, guardian or spouse was present.
Co-sponsor Sen. Judy Robson speaks in support of Senate Bill 30.
The bill's authors, Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, and Rep. Kim Hixson, D-Whitewater, said they wrote the legislation at the request of Edgerton mayor Erik Thompson, who was upset to see his Rock County community portrayed in a New York Times article about Wisconsin's pervasive drinking culture. The story featured a bartender who talked about serving 15-year-olds who come to the tavern with their parents.
"Drinking at a young age can shape a person's drinking pattern of a lifetime," Robson said. "Research shows that teenagers who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who start at age 21 or older."
Hixson said he is also concerned about the effect Wisconsin's drinking culture has on the young.
Lisa Maroney and Dr. Paul Grossberg explain why Senate Bill 30 makes sense.
Dr. Paul Grossberg, clinical professor of pediatrics at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, told the committee that in teenagers, the part of the brain that controls judgment, the pre-frontal cortex, is not as developed as the thrill-seeking centers of the brain. Thus, younger drinkers don't have the judgment needed for higher thinking, decision-making, self-control, and the ability to weigh the consequences of actions.
"As a college health physician on the UW-Madison campus, every day I see firsthand the health consequences of high-risk drinking," said Grossberg, who treats students at University Health Services. "Too often, their lives and futures are jeopardized by their inability to say, 'Enough. I'm done!'"
Two Rivers Chief of Police Joseph Collins asks legislators to let police enforce a sensible law.
"This legislation is a step in the right direction," Maroney said. "Much more needs to be done to curb alcohol abuse and drunk driving in Wisconsin."
She noted these "staggering statistics" showing that Wisconsin has:
- The highest U.S. rates of alcohol consumption, binge drinking and heavy drinking
- The highest alcohol use in the country among high school students
- A trend of increasing drunk driving fatalities even though nationwide fatalities are dropping
- A prison population in which more than half the inmates have alcohol or other drug issues
Date Published: 08/20/2009