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Published January 21 2011

Forum editorial: Bill to ban tailgating on North Dakota campuses is a fumble

Rep. Chuck Damschen’s instincts regarding alcohol abuse are right, but his solution is flawed. The Hampden, N.D., Republican legislator’s bill to ban tailgating on college campuses got a cool reception Wednesday at a House Education Committee session.

The committee voted 13-2 for a “do not pass” recommendation. The committee vote doesn’t mean the bill is dead (all bills advance for floor action in either the House or Senate), but the committee’s overwhelming rejection of the bill is a good indicator of sentiment among other lawmakers.

Damschen’s concerns about underage drinking are shared by most North Dakotans. There is no question that the abuse of alcohol among youth is epidemic in the state. The problem is serious in high schools and on college campuses. And since pre-game tailgating is a high-profile college football season phenomenon, Damschen recognized that the symbolism could be used in the discussion of youth alcohol abuse.

But symbolism is meaningful only when there is substance behind it. Tailgating North Dakota-style is restricted, managed and controlled. To our knowledge, there have been few (if any) alcohol-related problems associated directly with tailgating at North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota, the two schools where the activity draws thousands of fans. Tailgating sites are patrolled. Underage drinking has not been a problem.

It could be argued that the well-run tailgating sites at the big universities actually are useful examples of responsible use of alcoholic beverages. (Although there are always those adult fans who overindulge and embarrass themselves.)

Committee Chairwoman RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, got to the heart of the tailgate flap. “Perhaps this one,” she said, “is not worthy of our governance at this point. It does seem the campuses are handling this very well at this time.”

In other words, the Legislature does not need to be involved in every aspect of North Dakotans’ lives.

That being said, Damschen’s bill presented an opportunity to put the issue of underage alcohol abuse in the spotlight. That’s always a good idea, even if his specific tailgating-ban legislation misses the mark.


Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.