Earlier this year, Wyoming indignantly became the last state in the nation to raise its legal drinking age to 21. Next month the Legislature will be asked to display its rage by lowering it back to 19.
The request comes barely six months after the higher age limit took effect and is seen by its sponsors as a way to defend the U.S. Constitution and to rise up against federal blackmail.It also comes in the wake of a study showing that the single-vehicle nighttime crash fatality rate among drivers ages 19 and 20 declined 38 percent in Tennessee in the 28 months after that state raised its drinking age from 19 to 21.
Wyoming raised its drinking age when faced with a federal mandate that threatened loss of millions of dollars in highway funds.
State Reps. H.L. Jensen and Dan Budd are sponsors of legislation to repeal the 21-year-old limit.
"I think we disfranchised a segment of the population of the state, and I don't think it's done that much good in cutting down the (traffic) fatalities," said Jensen.
Added Budd: "I feel the federal government violated the trust of the (U.S.) Constitution, and I think it's worth pursuing."
In 1987 Budd killed an attempt to raise the drinking age by pocketing the proposed legislation when it reached the House Transportation Committee, which he chairs.
"Certainly they can withhold the money," Budd said. "They blackmailed the state of Wyoming."
State Highway Department officials say it could cost Wyoming $12.3 million in federal funding in fiscal 1990 if the Legislature lowers the age limit.
Tom Fanter of the Wyoming Highway Department's safety branch said that in 1987 the state had 53 alcohol-related accidents involving fatalities. Of those 11, or nearly 21 percent, involved motorists under age 21 who had been drinking. Eight of those 11 accidents involved 19- and 20-year-olds, he said.
In the first 10 months of 1988 there were 48 fatal accidents involving alcohol and 13 of those, or 27 percent, involved motorists under age 21, said Fanter. Of the 13, nine occurred after the higher drinking age took effect July 1, and seven involved 19- and 20-year-olds.