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Tennessee Requires Stores to Check ID Card Of Anyone Buying Beer

AP | July 1, 2007
Lucas L. Johnson II

Comer Wilson hasn't had to show his ID to buy beer in a while. Maybe it's the 66-year-old man's long, white beard.

Starting Sunday, gray hair won't be good enough. Wilson and everyone else will be required to show identification before buying beer in Tennessee stores -- no matter how old the buyer appears.

"It's the stupidest law I ever heard of," Wilson said. "You can see I'm over 21."

Tennessee is the first state to make universal carding mandatory, the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association said. However, the law does not apply to beer sales in bars and restaurants, and it does not cover wine and liquor.

Supporters say it keeps grocery store and convenience store clerks from having to guess a customer's age. Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen said it's a good way to address the problems of underage drinking.

And the 63-year-old governor said he won't mind the extra effort to buy beer.

"I'll be very pleased when I'm carded, and, in my mind, I'll just imagine it's because I look so young," he said.

Rich Foge, executive director of the Tennessee Malt Beverage Association, said he expects there might be initial resistance from the beer-buying public. "But once people live with it for a month or two, it's going to go fine," he said. "It gets routine after a while."

Jarron Springer, president of the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association, said he understands the law "may seem a little odd" to people who are obviously older than 21, but he said it's necessary.

"If we're going to hold clerks accountable for their actions, then there's no room for discretion," he said. "It's either all or nothing."

The blanket requirement makes it easier for stores to comply, said Steve Schmidt, spokesman for the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association.

"There's no need to judge whether someone looks 21, 25 or 30," he said. "It's a set, consistent standard across the entire state."

Richard Rollins, who owns a convenience store in Nashville, is already using a computerized scanner to check everyone's driver's licenses when they buy beer. "We just say we're trying to keep our beer permit, and this is the safest way," Rollins said.

But it has stopped Jeff Campbell, 43, from shopping at Rollins's market.

"I don't mind them asking for my ID, but they don't need my driver's license number," Campbell said. "I'm just buying a six-pack. All they need to know is how old I am."

Rollins said scanning licenses has proved beneficial in other ways, such as catching criminals.

When one customer tried to make a purchase using a counterfeit bill, Rollins said, police were able to track him down because the receipt from the scanner showed his name and license number -- and his address.

The law, which expires after a year unless the Legislature decides to renew it, also creates a voluntary training program for vendors and their employees. Participating businesses would face lower fines if found guilty of selling beer to a minor, and their beer permits cannot be revoked on a first offense.

However, they face maximum fines of $1,000 for each underage sale, and they lose their status if they commit two violations in a 12-month period. Another violation could mean suspension or revocation of a license, and a maximum fine of $2,500.

Noncertified vendors can face those penalties on a first offense.

Marylee Booth, executive director of the Tennessee Oil Marketers Association, which represents gas stations and convenience stores, said the intention is not to hurt vendors but to help them protect minors

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