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Phyllis Kahn Wants to Allow 18-Year-Olds to Drink at Bars

A coalition of Democrats and Republicans in the state House are trying to get Minnesota's drinking age lowered back down to 18 -- but only in bars.

Phyllis Kahn, the chief author of bill, says a 2012 Supreme Court decision upholding Obamacare opened the door for states to stray from the federally-mandated 21-year-old drinking age. See also: How About That National 21 Drinking Age?

Back in the 1980s the federal government used the threat of withholding highway funding to force states to pass a higher drinking age, but Kahn says National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius declared the federal government "couldn't use the threat of loss of federal funds to compel state behavior."

That opinion was written upholding a challenge to a part of the Affordable Care Act that would've made states expand Medicare or risk losing all funding for it.

A similar bill Kahn also sponsored this year (HF 486) would allow 18-year-olds to drink in bars with their parents, which is allowed in Wisconsin.

The bills face several significant barriers before either can be considered seriously. First, Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee Chair Joe Hoppe has to allow them to be heard.

"I have to go talk to Joe Hoppe, it's on my list of things to do today," said Kahn when we reached her yesterday afternoon. "[Former committee chair] Joe Atkins would never deal with these, but now it's Hoppe, and I still have to ask him about it."

Hoppe did not return several message left for him and his legislative assistant yesterday. Kahn said she thought she remembered him being on board with lowering the age to 19 years old instead of 18.

"Well, 19 is better than 21. It's dumb, but it's better than 21. I'm not opposed to compromise," she said.

Kahn also has to find someone to sponsor the bill in the Senate, and Gov. Dayton is a teetotaler who only recently came around on Sunday sales.

Long odds aside, the larger question is whether or not allowing 18-year-olds into bars is a good idea. Kahn says bringing underage drinking out into the public will cause less problems, allowing the public as a whole to help kids learn how to drink responsibly.

"They're out in public and they're drinking at a place where bar owners have a responsibility to not overserve them, whereas now we know it's always possible for them to find an older person to go buy them liquor," she said. "This puts it into a more controlled, public setting."

She also pointed to the Amethyst Initiative, where 136 college presidents from across the country signed a letter supporting a lower drinking age, as another powerful argument for her case.

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