The Capitol Record

Self-checkout machines would freeze with alcohol purchases under bill

The Senate Commerce Committee discussed several alcohol related bills Friday morning. One of those bills deals with purchasing liquor at self-checkout machines in grocery stores.

“I walked through, paid for it, put it in my bag and there was nobody around. I walked out of there and nobody batted an eye at somebody buying alcohol through a self-checkout,” said bill sponsor Rep. Sam Hunt (D – Olympia), talking about the experience that prompted him to begin working on the measure.

The bill would require stores with self-checkout machines to halt any transactions that include alcohol until an employee comes to check the purchaser’s ID to make sure they are 21.

“We keep hearing stories that the machines do lock, that they don’t lock. This will end the debate,” said Holly Chisa, of the Northwest Grocery Association. “Self-checkout machines will lock up until an employee comes to check the customer’s ID.”

While there was no opposition to the bill, some say the legislation should do more to prevent theft and to protect workers, who could lose their job if they accidentally sell to a minor.

“You can go on the internet and find ways to scam the self-checkout scanner machines. You can scan a two-liter pop and have somebody put the liquor in a bag,” said Sharon Ness, a grocery workers union representative.

Also speaking on behalf of state grocery store workers, Joe Mizrahi said employees often cover six or eight self-checkout machines, and in those situations, distractions and mistakes are inevitable. He said the best way to prevent theft and to protect employees would be to require all alcohol sales to be made at the regular checkout stands.

“For our members, one mistake means immediate termination. While having that hard stop might be helpful for preventing the minor access, it doesn’t help with theft and it certainly doesn’t help with human error. The only way to adequately solve this is to have that one-on-one access in a check stand,” Mizrahi said.

Several other alcohol bills were discussed by the committee. One bill would allow beer and wine sales in theaters, another would let viticulture and enology students under the age of 21 taste wine as part of their education and one would allow certain retailers to hand out liquor samples. No action was taken on any of those bills Friday.

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