AUGUSTA — A proposed bill that would allow veterans and members of the armed forces under 21 to drink at veterans’ organizations came under fire from the American Legion and was unanimously rejected by a legislative panel Wednesday.

Even its sponsor, Rep. Catherine Nadeau, D-Winslow, said the wording is flawed and the bill needed reworking.

L.D. 1219 started with honorable intentions. Nadeau wanted to help Deputy Winslow Fire Chief Dana Michaud come up with a way to help vulnerable younger veterans connect with older ones who could offer guidance and support.

But testimony before the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee Wednesday found the bill under fire for a title that mentions the American Legion and false assumptions behind its creation.

After the hearing the committee voted down the bill.

The bill’s title says it would allow “active members and veterans of the armed forces who are at least 18 years of age and under 21 years of age to consume alcohol at eligible veteran’s organization posts and American Legion halls.”


The language of the actual bill doesn’t mention any specific veterans’ organization, but would allow minor veterans over 18 to consume alcohol “on the premises of a veterans’ organization eligible to receive a beano or bingo license.” Since the state doesn’t require veterans’ organizations to be certified, it has no official definition of one. The part of a bill that becomes a law is the actual bill, and the title is only informational.

Nadeau said the title language is “very deceiving” and it’s more about young and older vets connecting than about drinking.

“I believe this bill is less about alcohol consumption and more about camaraderie,” Nadeau told the committee Wednesday.

Nadeau said the intent of the measure is to allow young veterans into the private lounges where alcohol is served so they can meet older veterans.

But veterans’ organizations like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars say they do allow underage vets in the lounges with some restrictions.

Legion officials say the group was not consulted about Nadeau’s bill and want it “killed immediately,” said Rep. Michael Devin, D-Newcastle, a member of the Legion’s legislative committee and co-chairman of the House veterans caucus.


The bill “in no way represents the goals and values of the American Legion,” he said.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Jeff Flye, who manages the Winslow VFW hall, said the group also accepts underage veterans, but they aren’t allowed in the lounge beyond 7 p.m. in accordance with state law.

Legislators at Wednesday’s hearing also were skeptical about the bill.

Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, the committee’s co-chairman and a retired Kennebec County Sheriff’s Department patrolman, questioned whether a bar was the right place for young veterans to be talking about personal trauma, considering the fact that alcohol is a depressant.

Rep. Thomas Longstaff, D-Waterville, a co-sponsor of the bill, questioned the bill’s purpose.

“The more I listen to this, the more I think this bill may not be necessary at all,” he said.


Veterans groups usually have a public event space upstairs, but also a private lounge for members downstairs, which is off limits to those under 21, Nadeau said. That keeps young veterans from interacting with older comrades, which is especially important for veterans who have issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

“This isn’t about being served; it’s about being able to converse,” she said.

Nadeau said she would accept an amendment to reword the bill to allow underage vets in the lounge, but not allow them to be served alcohol.

Nadeau said she proposed the legislation after hearing from Michaud, who wanted to find ways to support vulnerable veterans after members of the fire department encountered a homeless young veteran.

Michaud added the American Legion into the bill’s title without consulting the organization, and Nadeau never checked to see if the Legion supported the bill, Nadeau said.

“I take partial responsibility for that. He never asked and I never fact-checked,” she told the committee, adding that Michaud had a health issue and could not attend the hearing.


Reached by telephone later Wednesday, Michaud said that not contacting the American Legion about the proposal was a mistake.

“It’s something I wanted to do to help these young men and women, and I’m sorry if there are members of the American Legion who are upset,” he said.

Nadeau has formally requested that the Legion’s name be taken off the bill. She left the hearing room after testifying before the committee.

Nadeau’s reasoning for the bill is flawed, according to Devin. The Legion already allows underage people in its lounge as long as they are a guest of a member. The only restriction is that underage guests cannot sit at the bar itself, he said.

Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, a former Marine and a co-sponsor, said he agrees in theory with the adage “old enough to fight and die for your country, old enough to drink,” but noted it conflicted with state and federal law and would be problematic to carve out an exception for a specific population of underage drinkers.

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