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WASHINGTON — A Wisconsin lawmaker wants young servicemembers to have a beer, if they want one.

State Rep. Mark Pettis has introduced a measure to lower the drinking age to 19 for active-duty troops from Wisconsin who are stationed in state. The idea will be considered by state lawmakers later this month.

“It’s common sense. The men and women of our armed forces should be shown the respect they deserve as adults,” said Pettis, a Republican who served in the Navy. “I respect their judgment.”

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. International laws and base commanders can push that limit back up to age 21.

But the major stumbling block for the measure isn’t the Department of Defense, but the Department of Transportation. Wisconsin could lose more than $50 million in federal funds for highway maintenance and improvement for violating federal minimum drinking age standards.

Pettis said he is hopeful Congress will grant the state a waiver for a two-year trial period, allowing them to try the lower expanded drinking without losing the money.

The proposed law would apply only to active-duty state residents, and not to troops from elsewhere but stationed in Wisconsin. Servicemembers who are 19 or 20 years old would need to provide their military ID and state driver’s license to prove their age and position before they would be allowed to order alcohol.

The Wisconsin chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving has already begun lobbying against the bill, citing the potential for increased problems and DUIs if the drinking age is lowered.

Pettis said his measure would still contain “zero-tolerance” language require that troops under 21 have no alcohol in their systems before driving, and dismissed the MADD concerns.


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