WASHINGTON — A New Hampshire lawmaker wants to lower the drinking age for active-duty military members to 18, making New Hampshire the second state to consider such legislation this year.

State Rep. James Splaine, D-Portsmouth, said his new bill would show servicemembers the respect they deserve for their work in the military.

“It seems hypocritical that we expect people to be able to make life or death decisions in Iraq, but in New Hampshire they don’t have the right or privilege to be able to drink,” he said.

This summer, Wisconsin state Rep. Mark Pettis, R-Hertel, introduced a bill to drop the $500 fine for underage drinking to just $10 for servicemembers. Half of that fine would go into a veterans support fund, and would effectively allow young troops to drink at any bar in the state.

Earlier this month, a Wisconsin House committee approved the bill 7-2. Officials from Pettis’ office said the next step is a vote before the full House, but no timetable has been set for that.

Pettis had crafted the $10 fine as a way to skirt federal drinking age minimums but still protect the state’s more than $50 million in federal highway funds, which could have been revoked if the federal age minimum of 21 was repealed even in part.

Splaine said he will seek a waiver from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the New Hampshire bill to preserve the state’s federal funding and allow the drinking exception.

“It’s not as much of an issue here because New Hampshire has already given up many of those (federal highway) funds,” he said. “We have no motorcycle helmet requirement, and no seatbelt law requirement, so they’ve taken away some funding for that.”

Splaine, who did not serve in the military, was the primary sponsor of the bill which raised New Hampshire’s drinking age to 21 in the early 1980s. He hopes that legislative history will give his new proposal more credibility among critics.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has already lobbied against both the Wisconsin and New Hampshire measures. Splaine said he expects a hearing on his bill in late January.

Defense Department rules require that all U.S. military facilities follow the 21 drinking age, but overseas bases can drop their drinking age as low as 18 based on their host country’s laws. Base commanders also can set the limit at 21, regardless of the foreign laws, at their discretion.

General Order Number 1, in effect in Iraq and Afghanistan, prohibits the “introduction, possession, sale, transfer, manufacture or consumption of any alcoholic beverage” while in the combat zone.

The laws in Germany, Italy

In Germany, the Kaiserslautern military community, which includes Ramstein

Air Base, the Oasis Lounge on Kleber Kaserne in Kaiserslautern and the Ramstein Enlisted Club have an 18-year-old drinking age limit.

In Baumholder (Outdoor Rec and bowling alley), Hanau (International Club) and Wiesbaden, Germany, soldiers who are 18 years old can buy alcohol at an on-base club or facility.

Sailors who socialize outside of base gates in Italy are restricted only by the minimum age required to join the military. Italy has no minimum drinking age — so if sailors are old enough to join, they’re old enough to drink. On base, however, in order to drink or buy alcohol, you must be at least 18 years old if active duty, and at least 21 if a civilian or a dependent.

The laws in Korea, Japan

On Nov. 1, U.S. Forces Korea raised the legal drinking age to 21 for its personnel — including troops, contract workers, civilians and family members.

USFK officials said the change also applies when its personnel are off-base. There is no legal drinking age in South Korea, though selling alcohol to someone under 19 is illegal, according to the South Korean embassy in Washington.

At Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, 20 remains the minimum legal age for buying and using alcoholic beverages on base and off.

In January 2004, the commander of Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, Japan, asked local bar owners not to sell alcohol to any servicemembers younger than 21, though the Japanese legal age is 20. The owners agreed.

— Stars and Stripes

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