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Bill seeks to lower drinking age for military

CONCORD, N.H. -- A Portsmouth lawmaker wants to lower the drinking age for the military.

State Representative James Splaine said his bill would let people over 18 use their military identification card to buy alcohol.

The legal drinking age is 21.

''I think it is unconscionable for us to be sending you people into battle and still be saying there are some rights you don't have and one of them is the right to drink," said Splaine, a Democrat.

Critics of Splaine's bill say alcohol inhibits brain development in the young and would put New Hampshire's federal highway funding at risk. A condition of receiving federal aid is that the drinking age be 21.

Splaine said he would make the age change in New Hampshire conditional on winning a waiver from the federal government so highway aid would not be affected.

''I think this will be a good debate to have," said Splaine. ''I don't know if the bill stands a chance of passage, but we need to generate the discussion on how to best educate people to handle alcohol. Age doesn't seem to be the main element."

New Futures, a nonprofit organization that works to reduce underage drinking, is among the groups prepared to fight Splaine's idea. Representative Terie Norelli, also a Portsmouth Democrat, is on the board of New Futures.

''We tried this once. It was failed public policy. We realized it and we fixed it, and we shouldn't be messing with it," she said.

Norelli said research shows that the brain is still developing at age 20.

''We certainly don't want our children to be drinking alcohol and have it bring a very negative effect on brain development," she said.

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