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New bill to lower legal age

By: Dave Fischer

February 9, 1973

A rare opportunity has come to influence legislative action on an issue of great interest to the student community, not only at the University of Miami, but also at other colleges and universities in Florida.

On Thursday, the Florida State Senate Judiciary Committee concludes a series of hearings held across the state on a bill by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Scarborough (D-Jacksonville) to lower the age of legal adult majority in Florida to the age of 18 years. These hearings are concluding with the last hearing being held at the Miami City Hall at Dinner Key in the City Commission chambers beginning at 12 noon.

What does this bill mean to those of you between 18 and 21? Many things. The law, if adopted, would grant you all rights and responsibilities presently reserved by law to those over 21. All disabilities in the law in terms of these rights would be removed. You would be able to sign contracts to purchase property, land, rent apartments, buy a car, or a stereo system; be able to enter and use the facilities at pari-mutual establishments (dog and horse tracks, jai lai) consume any alcoholic beverage legally and marry without parental consent.

The bill that would do these things however, has had very little luck in the State Senate in the past two years. In both 1971 and 1972, the State Senate killed a similar proposal after passage in the lower state house. The reasons the bill has been attacked in each session, including the present bill, centers mostly on what the bill does in the area of drinking, pari-mutual wagering and contractual obligations.

The attack on the drinking age change is based on emotion. The state senators on the committee have already been subjected to flowing rhetoric from fundamentalist preachers quoting from the Christian Scriptures, attacking this change as immoral. (I am certain that must have been an interesting experience.) But on the other hand, students testified at the Orlando hearing about the nonenforcability of the 21 year requirement to drink in Florida legally; one state senator, reportedly undecided on the bill and that provision of it, conceded as much at that hearing.

The attack on pari-mutual wagering provision stems from the same roots as the lowering of the drinking age; but perhaps far less emotion is involved.

Contractual obligations are extremely complicated to discuss. Basically, it does involve the following dilemma: those who do not live at their parents’ home will often have considerable difficulty in contracting to rent an apartment, but a car, a stereo, or any other appliance, if the need to obtain their parents’ consent is required. On the other hand, if the change in the majority age goes through, then one must assume all financial and legal obligations of the contract, especially if the contract is defaulted or violated. It is a calculated risk either way. What is the answer?

The staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee is urging that students and non-students alike attend the hearings and give the committee their views of what the answers are. The Miami hearings as the last hearings may very well determine the outcome of the bill, and whether or not all adult rights should be granted to 18-years-olds in Florida.

I have completely supported this change with no exceptions. The only basis for the significance of the age of 21 years is as Senator Edward Kennedy testified in 1970; that was thought in medieval times to be the age at which a man was capable of wearing a suit of armor. It has passed to us through the English common law. But now in Britain, the legal age of majority is eighteen. Our earliest sources of the Judao-Christian ethic, show that in Judaism, one is considered capable of being a member of the synagogue at 13, when one was bar mitzvahed.

Further, there is great significance attached to the age of eighteen, whose letters in Hebrew means “Life”: L’Chaim. The people of the United States saw fit to ignore the English common law to lower the voting age to make 18-year-olds liable to adult criminal penalties in all cases and submit them on many occasions to the military draft. It is not too late to make eighteen the age of legal majority. It is long overdue.

Dave Fischer wrote for The Miami Hurricane in 1973.

December 2, 2009

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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.