The lines of battle were not clearly drawn at a hearing here today on a proposal to raise Virginia's minimum age for drinking beer from 18 to 19.
A high school student said raising the age would be an "effective change."
Another student countered that raising the age to 19 "isn't going to solve the problem" because fake identification cards are available. She told state legislators how to make a phony ID.
One mother of five children was strongly in favor of raising the age; another was against it.
A college student said raising the beer drinking age would severely limit the social activities of his classmates.
Mark W. Hertzog, representing the Fairfax County Student Advisory Council in opposition to the bill, remarked humorously: "The largest number of crimes involving alcohol occur within the 50-to-59 age group. Now what are we going to about all those 50- to 59-year-olds?"
They all had their say at a public hearing before the Virginia House of Delegates Committee on General Laws. The beer-drinking age was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1974.
Del. Warren E. Barry (R-Fairfax), one of the sponsors of the bill to raise the age to 19, was armed with statistics and endorsements from juvenile court judges, Fairfax County supervisors, school principals and Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr.
"One hundred thirty-seven teenagers (in Virginia) were alive this time last year who are now dead due to drunk driving," Barry told committee members and the audience, which overflowed the hearing room.
He said his main concern is to get beer buyers out of the high schools.
"The age 18 does not have any magic," Barry said. "But I think the age of 19 does. Nineteen-year-olds are not fraternizing with high school kids. It would cut off the accessibility."
Barry said after the hearing that committee members indicated to him a compromise may be reached whereby an 18-year-old will be able to buy and drink beer at the place where it is sold, such as a restaurant, but will be prohibited from buying at a store to take out.
He said he would accept such a compromise "as a step in the right direction."
Lt. Paul Downey, head of the Fairfax County Police Department's traffic division, said the county has had a 373 per cent increase in the number of juveniles arrested for drunken driving, comparing 18-month periods before and after the beer-drinking age was lowered.
But Robert Seabolt, president of the student government at the University of Richmond, urged legislators to keep the age at 18.
"The bill would do some symbolic good, but would have some practical damage," Seabolt said. He noted that the major attraction of fraternities is beer, and when the audience laughed, he added, "Along with brotherhood."
After two hours of testimony, the bill was referred to a subcommittee by Del. Alan A. Diamonstein (D-Newport News), acting as committee chairman.