On July 1st, 2016, Michael’s Law was put into affect throughout the state of Georgia. Essentially, the law puts the rule of “21 and older” into the strictest terms for bars in Georgia. Not only do you have to be 21 years of age to enter a bar, it is now a requirement to be 21 years old to work as a bouncer or as a bartender. The law attempts to crack down on underage drinking and defines a bar as an establishment in which alcohol makes up 75 percent of their total sales.

This law was named after a tragic incident in Statesboro where a bouncer beat Michael Gatto, a Georgia Southern University student, to death. The incident caused many lawmakers to take action. While this law may be comforting to Michael Gatto’s parents, it will not have the intended effect of making young people safer.

To begin, the law, as written, is about four pages long. For anyone unfamiliar with the length of most legal documents, four pages is very minimal length for a law. While it covers the issue of increased insurance and several liquor licenses, if fails to address more specific issues. While attempting to put the law in place a soon as possible, lawmakers seemed to have failed to address how they plan to implement the 21 and up law for workers. For instance, it does not cover how to handle current employees, under 21, who were hired before the law was put into place.

Another issue lies in implementing the law. There are about 80 bars in Athens alone. Does Athens Clarke County plan on covering every single bar and getting to every single employee to check their age? Not to mention the other hundred of bars in the state of Georgia they have to check as well. With the resources they have, it is nearly impossible to cross check every bar in Georgia, which the law calls for. To hold bars responsible for reporting incidents is a great idea, but at the same time there needs to be greater resources allocated if we’re actually going to implement this law.

This whole idea of employment over 21 brings a major question in to play: how effective is it to stop underage drinking if the workers are of age to drink? I can’t speak for everyone, but most people over the age of 18 know how to read IDs. It is simple math using the birthdate on the ID and subtracting from today’s date. Also, I’m pretty sure most 18-20 year olds know what paper looks like – you do not have to be of age to see a paper printed or tape-over ID. It is not like when people turn 21 they can magically spot fake IDs from a mile away – it takes training and a little bit of intelligence, something you don’t have to be 21 years old to have. To have employees in bars that are focused on stopping underage drinking/over serving guests, that requires a sense of responsibility and thorough training from an employer, not an age limit. Not to mention, specifically to Gatto’s incident, the bouncer who killed Michael wasn’t even working at the time – it wasn’t age that was an issue, it was the ego and strength of a drunken patron.

Although putting a stricter law into place can make people feel more secure, more laws don’t necessarily make us safer. Free people, intelligent people will find ways to out smart the system. Putting a stricter law into place increase the possibilities of fake IDs that bars will receive. It punishes adult people and restricts their access, and doesn’t necessarily make anyone safer. Ultimately, this is not going to lessen underage drinking, it is just going to stop them from drinking in bars. This will equate to more house/apartment parties, which brings a very real possibility of an increase in drunk drivers on the road going to and from these parties.

Michael’s law is a valiant effort on the part of the Gatto family. One can only imagine that they are trying to make sense of this tragedy and also to make sure Michael didn’t die in vain, to hopefully prevent this from happening to anyone else. While we grieve for this family, there should have been more thought put in regarding the unintended consequences before lawmakers try to further restrict adults access to adult beverages.

Sources:

“Age Discrimination.” Age Discrimination. Accessed July 27, 2016. https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/age.cfm.

Gatto, Michael. “Georgia State House: Pass Legislation That Will Require Establishments That Serve or Sell Alcohol to Carry General, Liquor and Dram Shop Liability Insurance in Order to Get or Renew a Liquor License, along with Specific Bartender/bouncer Training Requirements.” Change.org. Accessed July 27, 2016. https://www.change.org/p/georgia-state-house-pass-legislation-that-will-require-establishments-that-serve-or-sell-alcohol-to-carry-general-liquor-and-dram-shop-liability-insurance-in-order-to-get-or-renew-a-liquor-license-along-with-specific-bartender-bouncer-training-requir?recruiter=197802771.

“What Is Michael’s Law?” Michaels Law. 2014. Accessed July 27, 2016. https://michaelslaw.wordpress.com/what-is-michaels-law/.

Zauner, Brooke. “New Law Prevents Anyone under 21 from Entering Georgia Bars.” New Law Prevents Anyone under 21 from Entering Georgia Bars. July 1, 2016. Accessed July 27, 2016. http://www.wrdw.com/content/news/Michaels-law-prevents-anyone-under-21-from-entering-Georgia-bars-385264861.html.

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