California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed AB 183, which is now law. AB183 prohibits the sales of alcohol through self-checkout lanes in retail outlets. Was this an assault on consumer choice or a proactive attempt to control underage drinking?
AB 183 is a bill which was authored by California Assembly Member Fiona Ma (D) of San Francisco in response to an apparent ability of minors to purchase alcohol by using self-checkout lanes in grocery stores, big-box stores or any other retail venues which use the self-checkout lanes.
The bill, while the work of Assembly member Ma, is also part of a campaign being supported by the Alcohol Justice organization, in an attempt to curtail underage drinking.
This is not the first attempt by the California Legislature to reduce the availability of alcohol sales to minors and intoxicated adults however. In 2008, Hector De La Torre introduced AB 523 and a second updated version in August 2010 AB 1060, which was passed through the legislature but then vetoed by then Governor Schwarzenegger.
The bills opponents had tried to paint the discussion as one of simple union jobs protectionism, but were unable to produce the requisite support against the evidence produced by organizations, and studies performed in defense of the proposed law.
One of the trickiest methods teens have been using is to bring a six pack of soda and a six pack of beer to a self checkout lane, scan the soda and then bag the brewski's. Leaving the soda behind while carrying the beer straight past the unwary check out clerk.
In one research study performed by law students from UCLA, interns and staff from LAANE (Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy) plus additional volunteers, the results of the study showed a disturbingly high percentage of unregulated alcohol purchases occurring.
The study found in a sampling of ninety seven visits to thirty four sites including Ralphs, Albertsons, Fresh & Easy, Superior and The Market at Vons the purchasers were authenticated only (80%) seventy eight times. Leaving nineteen (20%) of the purchases as sales open to any consumer regardless of age or state of intoxication. The participants in the study ranged in age from twenty one to forty one.
In the study, only one third of the participants under the age of thirty were asked to verify their date of birth, while the law in California requires all purveyors of alcohol to verify the age of anyone who appears to be under the age of 30. The study was conducted in Los Angeles and Orange County.
A second study performed by the San Diego State University showed that the failure of checking ID rate in California ranged from 22% to as much as 39% in tests done in 1996.
While the Governor of California has a very busy schedule and a seemingly endless pile of bills from the legislature to consider, this bill, AB183, sat unsigned by the Governor for nearly a full month and was signed today.
Michael Scippa of the Alcohol Justice organization had this to say.
"Until he did it, we really weren't sure what the Governor was going to do,"
This bill had extensive support from disparate groups throughout the state, including MADD, Consumer Federation of California, California Police Chiefs, Alcohol Justice, California's Police Officers (PORAC), California Professional Firefighters, California Council on Alcohol Problems, California Narcotic Officers Association and many of the states religious leaders.
The message which all of the organizations and groups were able to rally behind was the need to control underage drinking and also to solve the problems inherent in persons already intoxicated being able to freely purchase alcohol without being monitored. The costs to society in general and to each individual involved in an alcohol related accident or incident runs high and any available tool used to combat the problem should be a welcome addition to alcohol consumption proponents.
Michael Scippa also had this to say.
"... a last minute demonstration of impassioned support by state religious leaders may have helped him [the Governor] understand that the bill is not just about preserving union jobs as opponents tried to unfairly characterize the measure. AB 183 is about preserving the public health and safety of all California residents and visitors."
In discussing the issue on the telephone today with Mr. Scippa, he mentioned his hope that the rest of the country would be able to accept California's lead in this area and begin to control the access of alcohol to underage drinkers. That is a possibility some will hope for and others will rail against.
While Ralph's and Safeway (not mentioned in the study) were contacted to allow a response to the results of the UCLA study, neither has at this time chosen to offer an official response.