If the state’s convenience stores have their way, anyone wanting a six-pack of beer in Tennessee soon will have to prove they are old enough to buy it, even if they look well over 21.
The state House approved legislation Thursday that would require all beer sellers but restaurants to check all IDs.
The bill also would create a voluntary training regimen for sellers and all their employees called the “responsible vendors program,” and that is where the legislation has drawn opposition.
Businesses that participate in the program would face lower fines if found guilty of selling beer to a minor than those that don’t participate. The measure also stipulates that beer permits for “responsible vendors” cannot be revoked on a first offense.
“Our biggest concern is a reduction in fines for those who opt into the program,” said Laura Dial, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving of Tennessee, which is neutral on the bill. “That just doesn’t make any sense.”
The House passed the legislation on a vote of 75-20 Thursday, and the Senate approved it unanimously last week. The Senate approved the bill last week but must vote again because it was amended.
Gov. Phil Bredesen has not said if he would sign it.
The bill would mandate carding for only a year beginning July 1, 2007, unless the Legislature votes to extend it. And it wouldn’t apply to sales of wine or whiskey. Beer sales are traditionally regulated locally in Tennessee, while liquor sales are regulated by the state. Beer can’t be sold in stores that sell wine and liquor.
Suburban mayors object
Several mayors of suburban municipalities in Shelby County, known for strictly enforcing beer laws, have lobbied against the bill because of the lighter punishments.
Mayor Terry Jones of Millington, a town of about 10,500 residents just north of Memphis, said the legislation is an attempt to shield convenience stores from local laws.
“All they’re trying to do is take the ability to enforce the law away from us,” Jones said. “You get one chance here” if caught selling beer to minors.
But Emily LeRoy, associate director of the Tennessee Oil Marketers Association, one of several industry groups pushing the bill, said the lower fines are a fair deal for a business that puts the time and expense into the training.
A business would still face losing its license if caught in two separate instances of selling beer to a minor. A business could also be kicked out of the program if it does not train all employees.
Chris Freeman, a manager for Pilot convenience stores, said it was difficult at first to get customers used to being carded even if they were obviously older than 21.
“Now they walk up and have their IDs ready,” he said. “It made it easier on the cashiers.”