A state lawmaker wants to make it harder for minors to purchase alcohol and tobacco by reconfiguring the driver”s licenses of those under 21 from the traditional horizontal format to a new vertical layout.

Paul Wong
Oxygen Media Senior Vice President Cheryl Mills moderates a women”s panel titled “”Choose to Lead: Powerful Choices”” last night.<br><br>LAURIE BRESCOLL/Daily

The new format would make someone instantly identifiable as being underage, and as on current licenses, the dates when the minor turns 18 and 21 would also appear in bold, red print.

Sen. Loren Bennett (R-Canton) said he expects swift approval for the bill, which he plans to introduce before the Legislature suspends work for winter recess.

Mike Classens, legislative aide to Bennett, said the purchase of alcohol and tobacco by minors has become unacceptably widespread. A 1999 study by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission found that store clerks in the Detroit area sold alcohol to minors in 283 out of 564 attempts more than half the time. In 55 of those attempts, the clerk sold the minor alcohol after checking identification that indicated the person was indeed under 21.

Bennett points to the success of 13 other states using vertical licenses. Chief among these is Virginia, which implemented the system in 1998.

Ronnie Hall, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, said business owners in that state had conveyed “very positive” feedback for the program.

According to a press release from Bennett”s office, the proposal has encountered no opposition within the legislature and its supporters include the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, the secretary of state, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Michigan Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking, the Michigan Association of Convenience Stores, the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association, the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, the Michigan Grocers Association and the Michigan Distributors and Vendors Association.

Although Classens could not anticipate how much the bill would affect the purchase of restricted substances by minors, he said that “it will make it extremely difficult for underage people to buy. We feel nearly impossible.”

Despite Bennett”s confidence in the bill, many students and Ann Arbor business owners are skeptical that the new format of the driver”s licenses would have much effect.

“I don”t think it”ll be effective at all because people who are obtaining alcohol and cigarettes underage are not using their IDs,” said Tom Massie, an LSA freshman.

“People buy liquor through other people, so that way isn”t going to stop because you just find a friend who is over 21,” said LSA freshman Paul Crawford.

Jerome Kamano, owner of Diag Party Shoppe, said that although underage consumption of alcohol and tobacco may have been a problem on campus several years ago, the local government has since then taken ample means to control it. He also was reluctant to believe that the revised licenses would curtail the purchase of alcohol by minors in stores.

“It”ll control it a lot in the bars, but (people) are still going to find people to buy for them,” he said. Nevertheless, Kamano expressed support for the bill. “I think it”s an excellent idea,” he said.

In addition to students and business owners, the Ann Arbor Police Department was also hesitant to back the bill. Sgt. Michael Logghe said most minors “use someone else”s (license) like an older brother”s or sister”s.” Still, he thought the bill had merit as an experiment.

“It isn”t going to hurt,” he said.

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