Legislation to raise drinking age hits floor - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Legislation to raise drinking age hits floor

by Lannie Walker

Guam - Debate over legislation proposing to raise the legal drinking age on Guam has turned into a different debate for some. A debate over why the public is not the body that will make the final decision on allowing those 18 and older to drink legally.  

Bill 398 was introduced by Vice-Speaker B.J. Cruz and was the focus of discussion on session floor today for several hours.  But it is not the first time a proposal to increase the drinking age was made locally.

Back in 2002 and in 2006, Guam voters voted against raising the drinking age to 21.  This year, the decision lies solely in the hands of lawmakers.  In the Decision 2002 elections, the proposal failed to garner enough votes, likewise in 2006,  although a Superior Court judge at the time ordered that the votes on the initiative not be counted, people voted anyways and the results were unofficially released showing a majority of people at that time did not support raising the drinking the age

The bill in its original form not only prohibits those 21 and under from drinking alcohol - it also bans them from serving. Senator Rory Respicio offered and amendment to change that during today's session, suggesting, "Ensure that if you are 18, 19 or 20 you will still be able to get an ABC license and you will be able by law to serve alcohol."

KUAM News asked Joy Reyes, who is 19 and works in a bar, what she thinks of the amendment, to which she replied, "Honestly, I think they should keep it.  I mean, for the people that are under the age of 21 at least 18 legal age, because it is a job and for some people that are right now working it would be unfair to just pass the bill and all of a sudden lose their job."

But losing the right to be heard is what James Castro, marketing manager for MidPac Distributors, is concerned about.  "The people of Guam voted twice not to raise the drinking age on Guam, and now our senators want to go against the will of our people.  This is a slippery slope that B.J. and our representative want to go to go against the will of the people and this is not just about raising the drinking age, this is about our senators ignoring our votes."

Of course, there are those who on this issue don't the public should have the final say.  Physician Dr. Thomas Shieh stated, "My Response is this: the public should not have the right to decide who lives and dies."

A pause in the process is it what businessman Jay Merrill believes is needed, and says if a vote is called on raising the drinking age, it should be put to the general public.  "I think there needs to be a great deal more debate than what has been facilitated though the process of the public hearing," he stated.  

Instead of a pause, however, lawmakers are moving forward, moving Bill 389 to the Voting File, with a vote on the legislation expected as early as this Friday.

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