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WASHINGTON — A Wisconsin lawmaker who proposed lowering the drinking age for active-duty servicemembers to 19 now, instead, wants to drop the fine for underage military drinkers to $10.

State Rep. Mark Pettis, whose original idea stalled in the state legislature, said under his new bill, half the fine would go to a state education fund — as mandated under state law for all underage drinking fines — and half would go to a veterans support fund.

Pettis believes his original proposal, introduced in June, lacked support because changing the drinking age would have conflicted with federal law, which could have cost Wisconsin more than $50 million in federal transportation funds.

But lowering the underage drinking fine from $500 to $10 wouldn’t result in the same problems, he said. The state has already partially circumvented a Department of Transportation requirement for a seatbelt law by fining unrestrained drivers only $10 per offense.

“And this is not about drinking,” Pettis said. “This is about treating young men and women as adults.

“They’re putting their lives on the line to serve this country. I think we can respect their decision to have a Miller Lite or a Mountain Dew.”

The legislation would not exempt the servicemembers from drunken driving laws, and would leave the decision whether to serve the underage troops to bar owners.

“But I know plenty of taverns that would gladly serve them, take up a collection to pay the fine and make sure they get a ride home,” Pettis said.

Current Defense Department rules mandate military facilities follow the legal drinking age of 21 for domestic bases, and at minimum age 18 for overseas bases. But base commanders can decide to set that limit at 21, regardless of the foreign laws.

Pettis said he expects a committee hearing on the proposal when the Wisconsin legislature returns from summer recess in September.


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