Large groups of young service industry workers flocked to the Louisiana State Capitol on Tuesday, May 9, 2023, to oppose a bill that would have raised the minimum age required to serve drinks. (Photo credit: Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)
In the face of immense pushback from young service industry workers, a proposed law to prohibit 18- to 20-year-olds from entering or working in bars in Louisiana underwent major changes Tuesday that removed most of the age restrictions.
In its original form, Senate Bill 194, sponsored by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, would have made it illegal for anyone under 21 to enter bars or serve alcoholic drinks as bartenders or servers. It also would have prohibited underage musicians from performing in bars even under the supervision of a parent.
Under current Louisiana law, 18-year-olds can enter bars but cannot buy drinks. The minimum age to purchase alcohol is 21. Bartenders and restaurant workers can serve alcohol at 18 but must have a state-issued permit to do so.
Mizell amended the bill, removing the age prohibitions and tailoring the proposal to impose heavier fines and allow lawsuits against establishments that illegally serve alcohol to underage patrons. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary B Committee without objection.
“Right now, in a transaction where an 18-year-old is illegally served or over-served and hurts himself or herself or hurts someone else, (the customer) is the most responsible party because we have nothing in the law to protect him from the other way,” Mizell said.
Forty-five states have some version of a law that holds bars liable if someone is injured or causes an injury due to intoxication from alcohol consumed at the bar, the senator said.
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Testifying in favor of the bill was Lauren LeBlanc, the aunt of 18-year-old Madison Brooks, an LSU student who was allegedly sexually assaulted and died in January after becoming heavily intoxicated at Reggie’s, a bar in Tigerland. According to police, Brooks accepted a ride home from four men and was raped before being dropped off in a residential area. She was then fatally struck by a vehicle when she wandered along Burbank Drive. The four men have been charged with her rape.
LeBlanc told lawmakers that Brooks was able to drink at Reggie’s because her friends and acquaintances worked there as bartenders. They were also under 21 and drinking themselves, she said.
“How can a person be allowed to serve alcohol and not consume it?” LeBlanc said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Dozens of young adults packed the committee room to the point that legislative staffers had to open an overflow room to accommodate them. However, many who came to testify against Mizell’s bill opted not to after she submitted the amendment.
One of those opponents was Ava Maslyk, an 18-year-old bartender at Murphy’s on Chimes. Working at bars and restaurants is one of the only jobs that offer the pay and flexibility that fits with a college student’s schedule, she said.
Most of the staff at Murphy’s and other off-campus hangouts are young college students, according to Maslyk. A Saturday evening shift can bring up to $400 in tips, so a student might only have to work two shifts a week in order to pay their bills, she added.
“It’s a really accessible job for people who need to pay for college,” Maslyk said. “We have bartenders under 21, but they’re certified and trained properly.”
Raising the minimum age for bartenders could exacerbate a labor shortage currently hindering much of the hospitality industry, she added.
Mizell’s bill next heads to the Senate floor for consideration.
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