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By David Templeton, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH — A parent enjoying an alcoholic drink might find his or her young child to be curious about what’s in that bottle or glass.

It raises the question: Should the parent offer the child just a taste? Will it remove the temptation or encourage use or even abuse?

University of Pittsburgh researcher John E. Donovan said previous research findings prompt his recommendation against parents’ offering their children a taste of alcohol. Even if research, so far, shows no harm from only a taste, it also has shown no benefit. So why encourage alcohol consumption?

His current study published online in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research sought to identify factors that prompt children to taste or sip alcohol at ages as young as 8 or 10.

Research already has identified two factors predicting whether a 12-year-old child has tasted alcohol — the child’s attitude toward giving it a try and a family environment supportive of alcohol use.

But the study led by Donovan, a Ph.D. and associate professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Pitt, and co-written by Brooke S.G. Molina of Pitt’s departments of psychiatry and psychology, found that parental approval more so than the child’s psychological proneness is key to whether children 8 or 10 years old already have tasted alcohol.

“Children who sipped alcohol before age 12 reported that their parents were more approving of a child sipping or tasting alcohol and more likely to be current drinkers than those yet to have a sip,” he said. Parents’ comments confirmed that conclusion.

The study involving 452 children (238 girls and 214 boys 8 or 10 years old), and their families from Allegheny County, sought to identify factors that predict whether a child will start to sip or taste alcohol before age 12. One key finding is “that sipping during childhood is not itself a problem behavior, like delinquent behavior or drug use,” Donovan said.

A previous study he conducted determined that nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of 12-year-olds have at least tasted alcohol.

Children often have their first taste of alcohol during family gatherings or celebrations, he said. Parents in the study, even those regularly drinking in the presence of their children, did not roundly approve of offering their children a taste. But some were less opposed to it.

“We don’t really know yet whether childhood sipping or tasting (of alcohol) has any future negative consequences,” he said. “But our previous research found that sipping or tasting alcohol by age 10 was significantly related to early-onset drinking — that is, having more than a sip or a taste before age 15.”

Previous research also found early-onset drinking, as opposed to just tasting, to be associated with numerous negative outcomes for adolescents and young adults, including alcohol abuse and dependence, illicit drug use, prescription drug misuse, delinquent behavior, risky sexual behavior, motor vehicle crashes, and job problems, among others. But it’s not yet known whether just a taste or sip can lead to early consumption of alcohol and later negative outcomes.

But that information could eventually be drawn from already gathered information from Donovan’s ongoing longitudinal study, which is one that follows the same participants through time. “I don’t know whether sipping or offering a sip or taste can have any consequences later on,” he said. “So we shouldn’t assume there is no problem. You have to make your own decision, but it suggests that it may be a problem, and they shouldn’t have a taste.

“What we’re saying is that drinking with the family does not protect against problems or heavier involvement with alcohol later in life,” he said. “It doesn’t have a good benefit. It doesn’t help the child. It doesn’t prevent problems. If it is not helpful, why engage in it? It could create problems.”

AFP Photo/Justin Sullivan

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

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By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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