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The Wisconsin legislature Friday worked out a compromise bill raising the state`s legal drinking age from 19 to 21 on Oct. 1.

The compromise, expected to pass both houses, would allow 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds to enter bars but not to drink. That provision would be in effect on a trial basis for three years.

Wisconsin residents who are 19 before Oct. 1 would be exempt from the age 21 requirement. Out-of-state people who turn 19 before Sept. 1 also would be exempt.

The provision allowing underage people into taverns would help keep them in a ''supervised setting'' instead of drinking in cars and parks, a spokesman for tavern interests said.

Earlier Friday the Assembly had passed a bill that would have allowed 19- and 20-year-old Wisconsin residents to drink beer legally until 1988. Gov. Anthony Earl said that was not acceptable and backed the Senate version, which raised the age to 21 for all people on Oct. 1.

A conference committee met Friday morning to reconcile the two measures and approved the compromise that raises the age to 21 this year but allows 18- through 20-year-olds on tavern premises without drinking rights.

The votes to raise the drinking age came after lengthy debate late Thursday and early Friday.

Sen. Walter Chilsen (R., Wausau) said he believes a higher drinking age will save lives.

''Statistic after statistic, survey after survey, indicates raising the drinking age saves lives,'' Chilsen said. ''If you make alcohol less available, we are going to save lives.''

But Sen. Fred Risser, a Democrat from Madison, said the higher age is not fair to young adults.

''We`re making whipping boys and second-class adults out of a very important segment of society,'' Risser said.

Sen. Marvin Roshell (D., Chippewa) said states` rights is the issue.

''The federal government shouldn`t put a gun to our head,'' he said, referring to the threatened loss of federal highway funds if states do not have a legal drinking age of 21 by October.

More than 40 states have 21-year drinking ages, many having fallen into line after the threat to withhold federal funds.

Rep. John Merkt, a Republican from Mequon, said the 21-year drinking age is necessary to stop ''border hopping'' by underage people from neighboring states who cross into Wisconsin to drink.

''Don`t make this state a magnet, an island, for 19-year-old drinkers,''

Merkt said.

Rep. Barbara Gronemus (D., Whitehall) discounted the so-called ''blood border'' problem with surrounding states.

''You`d think we`ve had people just dying on our borders,'' Gronemus said. ''Nothing is further from the truth.''

The move to raise the drinking age to 21 has gained momentum since the federal government threatened to cut off $11.7 million per year in highway funds if the age stays at 19.

Copyright © 2019, Chicago Tribune
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