U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., who spearheaded federal legislation to raise the drinking age to 21 and pushed for comprehensive sex education in the nation’s schools, died June 3 of complications from viral pneumonia. He was 89.
In 1987, the de facto national drinking age became 21, under legislation stipulating that states that refused to raise the minimum age for drinking alcohol would lose part of their federal transportation aid. Sen. Lautenberg won over President Ronald Reagan in the fight to pass the measure, which has been credited with saving thousands of lives that would have been lost in alcohol-related crashes.
Sen. Lautenberg’s proposed Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, reintroduced in February with U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., seeks to expand age-appropriate comprehensive sex education programs, train teachers to talk to teenagers about unintended pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, and expand sex education programs at colleges. The bill would also prevent federal funds from being spent on what a press release called “ineffective, medically inaccurate sex education.”
Mr. Lautenberg announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election after his fifth term in office, which would have expired in January 2015.
His interest in education included anti-bullying efforts. In 2011, he and others from the New Jersey congressional delegation recorded a message for the “It Gets Better” Project, which aims to give students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender hope they will move beyond any harassment they experience as teenagers.
Mr. Lautenberg was the oldest member of the U.S. Senate and its last World War II veteran.
A version of this article appeared in the June 12, 2013 edition of Education Week as U.S. Senator Pushed for Sex Ed. and Higher Drinking Age