A bill to raise Virginia's drinking age to 21 sailed through the House General Laws Committee today, despite complaints by Fairfax Republican Del. Warren E. Barry that Democrats had stolen his idea.
"I call this the Beer-TAP bill: for Terry and the pirates," said Barry, referring to the bill sponsored by Del. Mary Sue Terry (D-Stuart) that won committee approval by a 16-to-2 vote.
"All she did was steal my bill, word for word," said Barry who angrily abstained from voting today.
Barry said, however, he plans to support the bill Thursday, when it is expected to come on the floor of the House of Delegates.
Since 1976 Barry, a 14-year veteran of the House, has watched similar bills he has offered die. This year Barry announced his retirement and said he hoped his colleagues would cast aside partisanship and pass his bill as a going-away present.
Democrats, with the blessing of Gov. Charles S. Robb, are backing Terry's bill.
Virginia law currently forbids the sale of wine and liquor to those under 21, but allows 18-year-olds to drink beer in bars and 19-year-olds to buy beer in grocery stores.
Today's vote was a defeat for Virginia's bars and restaurants and a Norfolk-based group called Many Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which had lobbied hard for a proposal to permit 18-year-olds to continue to drink beer in bars and restaurants. The Terry bill calls for a phase-in of the new drinking age, so that those who are 18 before the proposal takes effect will not be penalized.