Your quick trip to the supermarket for a six-pack of brews or a bottle of vino might take a bit longer if the state Senate approves a bill that would bar retailers from letting customers buy alcohol through self-service checkouts.
AB 183 by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, is based on the argument that self-checkout alcohol sales make it easier for minors or already-intoxicated customers to buy, and increase chances of theft. The Assembly approved AB 183 on a 48-26 vote May 26, sending it to the state Senate.
Similar bills have been offered twice before, both by former Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, D-South Gate. His 2007 bill didn’t make it past the Senate Governmental Organization Committee; his 2009 bill was approved by the Legislature but was vetoed last September by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said there’s “no legitimate evidence to suggest that self-service grocery checkout stands are contributing to the theft of alcoholic beverages and sale to minors or intoxicated persons. … Thus, it is unclear what problem this bill seeks to address.”
Among AB 183’s supporters are the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Mothers Against Drunk Driving – somewhat strange bedfellows, given they took ardently opposite sides on last year’s marijuana legalization just a few months ago. Other supporters include several police organizations as well as anti-drug and anti-alcohol groups.
“We believe it is imperative that our youth be taken out of harm’s way in regards to underage drinking,” Michael Henneberry, communications director for San Jose-based UFCW Local 5, said Thursday. “AB 183 is a common-sense fix to the issue and will swiftly mitigate against the major problem of youth using self check to procure liquor. The law applies to union and non-union stores alike and is equitable despite the claims of some retailers.”
Nonetheless, the move toward more self-checkouts means a shrinking need for supermarket labor, the UFCW’s potential members. The union for years has been trying to organize clerks at Fresh & Easy supermarkets, which happen to use an all-self-checkout model; most recently, the UFCW has staged an informational picket line outside that company’s new store in Modesto.
The UFCW, always a prolific contributor to Democratic campaigns and causes, spent $15,000 last year just to lobby for De La Torre’s bill. The union’s Western States Council spent $15,348 on lobbying in this year’s first quarter, but Ma’s bill isn’t listed among those the union has tried to influence.
Opponents of AB 183 such as the California Grocers Association say self-service checkout stations already have a lock-out or “freeze” mechanism that requires a clerk’s intervention to verify age before finalizing all alcohol purchases. They also say studies consistently show that most of the time, minors get alcohol by getting adults to buy it for them.
“When this same legislation was vetoed last year the reason was clear – there is no legitimate evidence to suggest that assisted self-service grocery checkout stands are contributing to the theft of alcoholic beverages and sale to minors or intoxicated persons. The same holds true today,” CGA President Ron Fong said Thursday. “Our stores have solid protections in place against minors purchasing alcohol and we see this bill as a solution in search of a problem.”
The California Grocers Association – also a prolific campaign contributor that leans Republican, and gave significant amounts to Schwarzenegger’s committees – spent $60,251 on lobbying in this year’s first quarter on dozens of bills including AB 183.