As my generation rebelled against the Vietnam War and protests demonstrations rocked the country, an important victory was won that I felt would surely be our legacy.
The drinking age for beer and wine in Illinois was lowered from 21 to 19.
Alas, it turns out we failed not only to spread everlasting peace and love throughout the world, but a mere seven years after the drinking age was lowered, it was raised back to 21 in Illinois.
According to statistics, the number of young people dying in traffic accidents, and killing other people, had significantly increased.
Well, the good news is that there is a new movement in Illinois to put alcoholic beverages back into the hands of teenagers. Only this time, people want to make sure their parents are present because, as we all know, adults always behave responsibly when drinking with their children.
The legislation is the brainchild of State Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, who told me the idea was inspired by people attending Green Bay Packer games, not the liquor industry and its lobbyists.
Wheeler said her north suburban neighbors told her they had a great time traveling to football games in Wisconsin, where they could legally drink with their children in public, and they didn’t understand why the Land of Lincoln was denying them similar experiences.
When Wheeler initially told me about her constituents downing beers at Packer games with their kids I envisioned car wrecks with bodies spread across I-294. Some negative people will always connect drinking alcohol and such morbid thoughts instead of joyous occasions.
Wheeler’s measure, House Bill 494, is stuck in committee and she admits it’s not likely to get out, at least not this session of the Illinois General Assembly.
To her credit, the first words Wheeler spoke after she accepted my phone call were, “First of all, the only legislation we absolutely need to pass is a budget.”
Since little seems to be happening on that front and lawmakers are in Springfield, Wheeler said she thought it wise to represent her constituents in other matters of interest.
In Wisconsin, Wheeler noted, although the drinking age is 21, people under age may consume alcoholic beverages if they are in the company of their parents.
So Wheeler has proposed an amendment to the Illinois Liquor Control Act of 1934 which essentially states the prohibition against people under 21 drinking is lifted if the person “(1) is on premises where a restaurant is operated and the sale of alcoholic liquor is not the principal business carried out on those premises and (2) is under the direct supervision and approval of his or her parents or parent or those persons standing in local parentis of the person under 21 years of age.”
As for those horrified by the thought of toddlers being plied with whiskey, Wheeler says her bill would apply only to people 18 and over. She notes that such individuals are no longer children but young men and women allowed to serve in the military and drive a car.
I would add that there are many cultures where children are encouraged to drink with their families at a very young age.
Wheeler told me there is some pressure in Springfield to legalize recreational marijuana use and its defenders often suggest that 18-year-olds be allowed to smoke.
This made me smile. You don’t hear much about bringing peace and love to the world anymore. But legalizing pot and lowering the drinking age survive as a collective goal. We may have left something for future generations after all.
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