Proposed change would allow young soldiers to drink legally

A proposed bill at the Rhode Island State House would expand the right to drink to soldiers under the age of 21 who have faced military combat.

The idea came from a constituent of state Rep. Tom Winfield, who told the lawmaker, "we need to do something for combat veterans (so) that when they come home, they can partake in an adult alcoholic beverage."

Gabrielle Abbate of Mothers Against Drunk Driving said that during the Vietnam War, the same argument resulted in dropping the drinking age for everybody.

"The result was drunk driving stats and other drinking-related problems spiked," she said.

So the age was raised back to 21, and Abbate said since then, research has shown dangers of drinking before the brain is fully developed.

"Even more so than just being worried, they have put themselves in harm's way. Isn't it our responsibility to protect them, to look out for their best interests? This is a health issue," she said.

Winfield said he's not stuck in his view, and he hopes to learn more during the hearing process. But he said he's not the one to reject to a voter's idea.

"We have more important things to do with our budget and our unemployment. But if a constituent comes to me with a valid idea -- I work for them," he said.