Article published Oct 23, 2006
Senators avoid drinking age issue
By Lacee A.C. Martinez
Pacific Daily News


Most senators polled by the Pacific Daily News said they would not support a bill to raise the drinking age to 21.

Calls were made to the offices of each senator and they were asked to respond to the following yes-or-no question:

"Would you support legislation to raise the drinking age to 21?"

Frank Aguon Jr., D-Yona: No

Mark Forbes, R-Sinajana: Undecided

Adolpho Palacios, D-Chalan Pago/Ordot: No

Rory Respicio, D-Agana Heights: No

Robert Klitzkie, R-Yigo: Did not answer

Benjamin Cruz, D-Piti: Yes

Judith Won Pat, D-Inarajan: No

Joanne Brown, R-Chalan Pago/Ordot: No

Larry Kasperbauer, R-Dededo: Yes

The following senators did not return calls for comment: Tony Unpingco, R-Santa Rita; Eddie Calvo, R-Maite; Jesse Lujan, R-Tamuning; Mike Cruz, R-Piti; Ray Tenorio, R--Yigo.

Carmelyn Campos, a student at the University of Guam, said that during her government classes, she has often wondered why the issue of the island's legal drinking age has been left to voter initiatives, instead of handled through legislation.

Campos said she sometimes thinks senators may feel they are isolating a certain part of the population, including business owners and those under 21.

"I think senators wouldn't even dare to touch the subject because they're also thinking about the next election," the Mangilao resident said. "If you make (voters) unhappy, you may lose your seat in the next election."

After a court ruling by Superior Court Judge Arthur Barcinas on Friday, the initiative to raise the drinking age to 21 will not be considered on the upcoming General Election ballot.

Historically, proposed changes to raise the drinking age have been brought to the public through voter initiatives on the ballot. And most senators polled by the Pacific Daily News said they wouldn't support raising the legal drinking age.

When asked why legislation regarding the drinking age hasn't been proposed, Speaker Mark Forbes said he thinks most of his colleagues, including himself, are torn on the issue.

"I've been in the Legislature for (a while) and don't recall anyone bringing in legislation to raise the drinking age," said Forbes, R-Sinajana. "This is reflective of the population -- you continue to have a community split on the issue because there are good arguments on both sides."

Forbes said he would not pursue any legislation to raise the drinking age to 21.

Sen. Larry Kasperbauer said he had once considered introducing a bill to incrementally raise the drinking age, one year at a time until it was changed to 21, but didn't do so because the proposition had already been brought forward by citizens.

"I might consider doing it now and you'd need to get a public hearing on the bill and see what the people have to say," said Kasperbauer, R-Dededo.

"There are those who say we're elected to represent you folks, so therefore, we should do what we think is best, listen to the constituents and vote accordingly."

Democratic Sen. Judith Won Pat said delicate issues such as raising the drinking age should be turned over to the people.

"Fifteen people could make a lot of decisions that could actually tear this community in half," Won Pat said. "This is something that has to be addressed. And if it ever does come forward, that's when everyone will come and testify for and against."

Sen. Rory Respicio said he once tried to put legislation through to get an initiative on the ballot. Bill No. 161, introduced in 2003, did not garner the support of the 21st Guam Legislature.

"Even though I don't support it, I wouldn't use my one vote as a senator to block it from being put forth to the people," Respicio said. "The people should always decide wherever possible, the people should decide on these kinds of issue. Obviously, it's practical for the community."

For Coalition 21 chairman Dr. Thomas Shieh, the fact that senators haven't brought up legislation to raise the drinking age is no surprise.

"I think our government is ... responsible for many of the deaths and victims of alcohol abuse," he said. "Yet many of the senators are not doing it. Why? This is not a rights issue, it is a health-care issue."

Anita Arriola, attorney for Responsible Choices for All Adults, the group opposed to Proposal A, questioned the need for senators to bring forward legislation on the topic.

"Every poll that's come out, they all show that Coalition 21 doesn't have 50 percent of the people of Guam's vote," Arriola said. "This is not something that I think the people of Guam want."




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