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D.C., Pressured By Congress, Raises Drinking Age to 21

September 24, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The District of Columbia Council’s emergency legislation to raise the city’s drinking age to 21 takes effect next week, but includes a clause softening the blow for city residents.

The bill, approved late Tuesday night, exempts from the age 21 minimum those who turn 18 before Oct. 1, allowing that group to drink beer and wine.

Proponents said the so-called grandfather clause was essential to get the measure passed because some council members objected to taking an existing right away from 18-year-olds.

The council voted 10-to-3 to declare an emergency then approved the bill on voice vote, joining 42 states which have raised the drinking age to 21.

Many states, including Maryland and Virginia, have acted because a 1984 federal law would cut highway funds to states which have not raised the drinking age to 21 by the beginning of the fiscal year.

Since enactment of the 1984 law, 23 states have complied. Eight states and Puerto Rico are not in compliance. The eight are Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming.

States not in compliance would lose 5 percent of their federal highway allotments in fiscal 1987 and an additional 10 percent the following year if they continued resisting.

The emergency D.C. legislation, necessary to meet the Oct. 1 deadline, will take effect Sept. 30 for 90 days.

Before the temporary legislation expires, the council must pass a permanent law that could not take effect until undergoing a 30-day review in Congress.

In arguing for passage, Council Chairman David Clarke noted that the so- called grandfathering option for 18-year-olds was only available to those states who act by Oct. 1.

Members of Congress and neighboring Virginia and Maryland have pushed the district to raise its drinking age, arguing that the city would become a magnet for young people from the suburbs who would drive home drunk.

″I have gotten calls from congressmen. They’ve made all kinds of threats,″ Clarke said.

In arguing against the bill, Councilman John Ray said ″There is no emergency″ because highway funds that would be withheld could be recouped if the council acted during the next fiscal year.

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