In Politics, Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

A lot of legislation in 2009 and previous years is aimed at protecting children and minors.

Among them, so it would appear, was an effort to make it harder for minors to buy liquor by banning the sale of alcoholic beverages from self-service check-stands.

The measure, AB 1060, was placed on the Senate Inactive File on September 11, the final day of the legislative session, according to the Senate webpage. 

But it will resurface because, like so many things in politics, the bill isn’t what it appears.

Supporters contended that the “passive supervision” of self-service checkout allows “for manipulation.”

It’s easy to do a beginning-to-end face-to-face transaction, supporters said. It’s already done with cigarettes, spray paint and some over-the-counter drugs.

They cited a study recent study on self-service checkout by the Community Economic Development Clinic at the University of California at Los Angeles. Ninety-seven visits were made to 34 Southern California grocery stores during two weeks in April.

The study concludes that “evidence of inadequate staffing, inconsistent monitoring and technological failures documented in the study suggest that self-check-out machines MAY increase the risk of illegal purchases of alcohol, thereby harming public health.” (Emphasis added.)

And, finally, society should do whatever it can to prevent kids from buying alcohol.  

On the opposing side were the California Grocers Association, the California Retailers Association and Schwarzenegger’s Department of Finance. 

In summary, they argued the bill was a solution in search of a problem.

Self-service check-stands have a lockout mechanism that prevents an alcohol purchase until a clerk verifies age and completes the transaction.

Clerks manning self-service check-stands are subject to the same laws as everyone else on alcoholic purchases, opponents said, and the clerks must either ask for ID or determine the purchaser is over 21 years of age. If they make that determination, they must then key in a code to override the system and complete the transaction.

Opponents pointed to studies that show minors mostly get their alcohol from persons of legal age, not by purchasing it or stealing it themselves.

The Department of Finance objected to increased state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board enforcement costs.

In truth, the measure has nothing to do with minors or alcohol. Both sides knew it but neither said — at least publicly — what the bill’s actual intent is.

Nor did any analyses of the measure in either the Senate or the Assembly.

While the list of the bill’s supporters included no labor unions, they are the principle backers of the measure.

Like the square-footage “Big Box” restriction bills of past years designed to punish Wal-Mart for being non-union, AB 1060 is intended to punish non-union grocery chains – in particular fresh & easy – whose stores use only self-service check-stands.



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