Store clerks, servers and others who sell alcoholic beverages may soon have a new incentive to check the identification of their customers.
A bill moving through the General Assembly would impose a misdemeanor penalty on individuals who sell alcohol to underage customers and fail to ask for proof of the customer’s age. House Bill 1720 sailed through the House of Delegates last week and cleared the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on Friday.
Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt County, said he introduced the bill at the request of the Roanoke Area Youth Substance Abuse Coalition. Head said the measure is designed to provide extra incentive for employees to ask for identification from customers purchasing alcoholic beverages. If enacted, the offense would be a misdemeanor penalty that carrries a maximum fine $500.
“What we were trying to do is say [that], in addition to the store having responsibility for it, the clerk selling the alcohol is responsible,” Head said.
Virginia law already provides for penalties against businesses that sell alcohol to underage customers and against individuals who sell the beverages when they know or have “reason to believe” the customer is younger than 21. A person convicted of the offense could face a misdemeanor charge with a maximum penalty of a year and jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
“We’re having some problems with store clerks that would sell alcohol and simply fail to check ID and their defense is, ‘Well, I thought they were older than 21,’” Head told the Senate committee.
In those circumstances, Head said, judges have been reluctant to convict clerks of the more severe Class 1 misdemeanor.
“That’s not having the effect that we wanted to have to reduce the sale of alcohol to underage people,” Head said. “What this bill says is not that you have to card, that you have to check ID; but if you sell to someone who is under 21 and you didn’t check ID and then verify their age, then you’re guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.”
– Michael Sluss