A change to Illinois State law is quietly moving toward adoption despite the concerns of public health advocates and anti-drunk driving advocates in Illinois.
House Bill 494, which is co-sponsored by local legislator Kelly Burke, would allow 18 year olds to consume beer and wine in restaurants, cafes and similar establishments while on the premises. The legislation states that the 18 year old must be under the direct supervision of and have the approval of his or her parent or parents, grandparent or grandparents, step-parent or step-parents, or legal guardian.
The legislation, which is being pushed by the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association, sailed through the Tourism, Hospitality and Craft Industries Committee despite overwhelming opposition from public health experts.
The legislation was originally introduced by Representative Barbara Wheeler. However, Kelly M. Burke, who represents a large portion of Oak Lawn, added her name as a “co-sponsor”. Other co-sponsors are Representative Joe Sosnowski, Kelly M. Cassidy, Michael J. Zalewski and Randy E. Frese
The legislation must pass the Illinois House by the third reading deadline, which is scheduled for Friday April 28th. The bill would have to then pass the Illinois Senate by the end of session in May.
The Lake County underage drinking and drug prevention task force recently announced its opposition to the legislation. Likewise, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, a leading advocate against drunk driving is opposing the legislation. The Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems works to prevent youth addiction and is opposed.
Organizations such as Fathers Against Drunk Driving compile statistics that make White’s opposition especially worthy. According to FADD, persons between 16 and 24 years old comprise only 20% of the total licensed population, and 20% of the total vehicle miles traveled in this country by all licensed drivers, but they cause 42 percent of all fatal alcohol related crashes.
The Illinois Public Health Association, which represents all health departments and agencies in Illinois has recorded its opposition. The Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium, which represents various health departments, including Cook County, Chicago, DuPage, Will County, McHenry County, Grundy County, Winnebago, Kane County and Lake County, have also voiced opposition.
Medical groups also recently found out about the legislation and are lining up to oppose it. The Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has filed its opposition notice with the General Assembly.
Despite the opposition, Burke and other members of the committee voted unanimously to push the legislation forward to the full House.
Opponents have begun contacting legislators noting that the legislation sends “the wrong message to children and adults about the effects of underage drinking”. The groups are noting that when alcohol is “normalized” it is difficult for youths to differentiate between a drink or two with parents at dinner and a drink or more with friends on a weekend.
Health experts are reminding legislators that underage drinking is dangerous for both the youth and for society. Each year approximately 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking. Of those deaths, 1,900 resulted from car accidents.
Medical groups plan to remind legislators in the Illinois House and in the Senate that medical evidence shows that the brain is developing in the mid twenties. They argue that the brain’s exposure to alcohol during the period of development may interrupt key processes of brain development and escalate drinking.
According to DrinkingMap.com, Illinois lowered the drinking age to 19 for beer and wine in 1973 as a response to the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18. The lowering of the drinking age resulted in an increase in alcohol-related car accidents and deaths, so the Illinois legislature raised the legal drinking age back to 21.
Representative Burke has represented the 36th District since 2011. She maintains a local District Office in Oak Lawn at 5144 W. 95th St. The Village of Oak Lawn has not taken a position on the legislation publicly.