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Bill would regulate liquor purchases at self-checkout machines

Post by Melissa Santos / The Olympian on Jan. 17, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
January 28, 2013 6:27 pm

The sale of liquor in grocery stores may be giving minors access to alcohol in an unexpected way: through self-checkout machines, an Olympia legislator says.

Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, is sponsoring a bill to prohibit grocery stores from selling liquor through self-checkout machines “with limited or no assistance” from an employee.  The bill received a hearing Thursday before the House Government Accountability & Oversight Committee.

“The intent of it is to make sure that there is a human person there to check that ID,” Hunt said at the bill hearing.

The bill is supported by grocery employee unions, who say that that employees are held liable if minors buy alcohol, even if it is through a self-checkout machine.

“If a minor does get out with alcohol, or they don’t check the ID properly, it’s a criminal offense for our members,” said union lobbyist Sharon Ness, adding that employees could receive up to a $5,000 fine and a year in jail for such an offense.

While some self-checkout machines ask for an ID check when scanning alcohol products, the machines can be easily fooled, Ness added.

“These machines are easy to bypass and often don’t work,” said Joe Mizrahi, lobbyist for United Food and Commercial Workers 21. “Ultimately, it is grocery store workers who are held accountable.”

Grocery industry associations say they would oppose the bill if it means they couldn’t use self-checkout machines for liquor, period —but they would be OK with a law that would require self-checkout machines to have a live cashier checking IDs. Many grocers have already spent a good deal of money on machines that halt a transaction if alcohol is involved, requiring employee assistance to proceed, said Charlie Brown, who spoke on behalf of Fred Meyer grocery stores.

“The way this bill is drafted, it is unclear if we could continue to use self-checkout and have someone stand there, or if we would have to move someone into a (staffed checkout) lane,” said Holly Chisa, lobbyist for the Northwest Grocery Association.

Rep. Chris Hurst, an Enumclaw Democrat who chairs the House Government Accountability & Oversight Committee, said he wasn’t previously aware that there was a problem with minors being able to sneak alcohol through self-checkout machines, but if it is happening, he thinks it need to be addressed.

“I was surprised to hear a couple of committee members say they had gone through self-checkout and had been able to get alcohol without being checked for their ID,” Hurst said Thursday. “At a minimum, there must be some kind of system that requires a physical check anytime alcohol is being purchased at a self-checkout to make sure that underage people are not drinking.”

The committee also heard a bill that would allow cider to be sold in growlers, a practice that is legal for beer but not for cider, which is classified like wine. No one testified against the cider-growler bill.

Another bill heard by the committee Thursday morning would create a beer and wine theater license that would allow theaters to serve beer and wine.

We’ll have more on that bill later in the week.

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