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Local authorities voice concerns over drinking-age debate

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

An ongoing, national debate has generated responses at local and statewide levels, regarding the benefits and detriments of the current legal drinking age.

The Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) issued a statement Wednesday, opposing the Amethyst Initiative, which favors lowering the legal drinking age -- currently 21 -- to allow 18-year-olds to purchase alcohol. As of last week, approximately 114 university leaders in the country had indicated support for the proposed measure.

GOHS Directo Bob Dallas strongly said he contests the idea of reducing the drinking age. He said doing so would "present a clear and present danger" for young drivers, and those who share the road with them.

"Lowering the legal drinking age would have the undeniable effect of making alcohol more accessible to youth," said Dallas. "If Georgia [does this], more of our young people will drink and drive, and more of [them] will die."

Other groups have also come out against adjusting the lawful age limit. They include the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The GOHS reports that leaders of several colleges and universities have expressed support for the Amethyst Initiative's efforts. Some of those institutions are in Georgia, including Oglethorpe University, Georgia Southwestern State University and Spelman College.

Clayton State University officials, however, would not comment on the matter Monday, but referred a reporter to the school's policies on the use of alcohol and other drugs. Those policies state that illicit drug use, including their manufacture, sale, distribution, dispensation, possession ... is prohibited at the university as a workplace, on the campus, or as part of any university activities.

GHSA Chairman Christopher Murphy said, however, that he was "dismayed" by the stance taken by the executives of schools that had reportedly made a stance in the debate. He said "research and hands-on evidence" prove the law, which is currently in place, has saved lives, and must be preserved. "Underage drinking remains a serious problem that needs to be addressed, but lowering the drinking age would be a gigantic step backward for highway safety."

Law enforcement professionals in Henry County have also spoken out on the issue, and are standing with Dallas in his opposition to changing the legal age.

McDonough Police Chief Preston Dorsey said he does not support any legislation which would lower the legal drinking age. He said establishing the minimum legal drinking age in 1984, helped to decrease the number of teenage drinking-and-driving cases in the country. He added that raising the limit could have the opposite effect.

"There has to be a maturity level present when you drink," said the chief. "I think 21 is an appropriate age to make that decision. Dorsey also said maintaining the current drinking age would help to guard against addiction and alcohol poisoning among teenagers.

Henry County Police Capt. Jason Bolton, representing his department, agreed with the McDonough chief. "We support the GOHS in its opposition to a change in the law,"

Locust Grove Police Chief Jesse Patton said he is "not in favor" of reducing the age requirement to drink alcohol. "I think the age of 21 is more suitable for responsibility."

Hampton Police Chief Rad Porter said he does not agree with changing the legal drinking age from 21 to 18 in the state of Georgia. " I think the only time the drinking age should be lowered would be on a military base ... If they are old enough to fight for our country, they should be allowed to drink."

Porter said drinking alcohol on a military base should be the only exception. He explained that as long as the soldiers remained on the military base, their consumption would fall under the guidelines of federal jurisdiction and added, even in that instance, under no circumstances should anyone drink and drive.