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Editorial: For 2013, change the culture, eliminate drinking loophole

Wisconsin is once again gaining national attention for our state's extreme alcohol culture.

A recent study singled out Wisconsin's law -- the only state with such a law -- that allows a parent or guardian to buy alcohol for their children of any age at licensed establishments, including bars and restaurants, as one of the most extreme legal loopholes in the nation.

To bring the state into the mainstream, Wisconsin should make 21 the consistent drinking age in all licensed bars, restaurants and other establishments.

"Wisconsin needs to send a strong message that 21 means 21," said Executive Director of Health First Wisconsin Maureen Busalacchi. "Wisconsin is the only state that allows parents or guardians to purchase alcohol for their children -- regardless of whether that child is seven or 20-years-old -- at bars and restaurants.

"Research shows that alcohol use before age 21 hampers brain development and can lead to future alcohol disorders. Eliminating this loophole is the first step toward establishing a safer alcohol culture for our state."

Studies also show that the younger someone starts drinking alcohol, the more likely it is he or she will develop an alcohol disorder.

Setting a consistent drinking age of 21-years-old emphasizes the point that underage drinking is unacceptable. As it stands, the law sends a very mixed signal since parents can provide liquor for their kids to drink. Wisconsin should amend the law to signal that the state will not tolerate underage drinking or alcohol misuse.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wisconsin is the nation's worst binge-drinking state -- with a fourth of all adults reporting they were binge drinkers.

Wisconsin's binge drinking rate is 50% higher than the national average. Wisconsin is also worst in the nation in drinks per binge drinking episode and the state consistently ranks near the top in drunk-driving arrests and drunk-driving fatalities.

"We recognize that in many Wisconsin communities, bars and restaurants are important gathering places," Busalacchi added. "We are not asking that underage patrons be removed from these places.

"Rather, we are asking the state to help change our drinking culture and take a stand for a consistent drinking age of 21-years-old at all licensed establishments."

We agree with Ms. Busalacchi.

Online Poll: Time to be up in arms

The Journal's online poll question this week asked: To improve our children's safety at schools, is it time we consider arming the teachers?

Early results are: NO, never: 45.5%; YES, the soon the better: 40.9%; and NOT YET, but there may come a time, 13.6%.

You can always add your vote by going to