California bill would stop alcohol purchase at self-checkout

A bill to stop the purchase of alcohol at self-checkout lanes in California was pulled from the Senate last week.

AB 1060 was seeking to ban grocery stores from permitting shoppers from purchasing alcoholic beverages in the self-checkout lanes now popular at many stores. The bill was supported by anti-DUI groups such as MADD as well as the Consumer Federation of California. Author Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, a Democrat representing South Gate, will reintroduce the bill next year.

One major issue with the proposal was the affect it would have on the supermarket Fresh & Easy. This store chain markets itself as a low-budget health food store. Part of the corporate image is low-cost alcohol sales. Another essential part is 100% self-checkout.

Opponents to the bill have expressed concern over how the bill was being used by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union to block the growth of the Fresh & Easy Chain. The Fresh & Easy chain is not part of the Union. The company currently has only 5 locations, but a 6th is already in planning according to the operating company Tesco.

Representatives from Fresh & Easy say more education is needed to show the lawmakers and the public that self-checkout lanes do not lead to easier alcohol sales. They state that both the automated systems and the store employees are effective in stopping underage purchases.

It should be noted that other grocery chains are additionally on the opposition side. They believe many consumers prefer the self-checkout, or assisted-checkout, option. Stores that promote small purchases benefit to a higher degree than large, chain grocery retailers. These stores continue to assert the automated checkout is constantly monitored by staff and cannot easily be evaded.

MADD California is not believing these claims, however. They say the systems are easy to override, as noted by several websites showing young people how to purchase alcohol through a self-checkout counter by scanning a non-alcoholic beverage twice.

Even think tanks in Washington, D.C., turned their attention to the bill. The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation focuses on promoting innovation and fiscal expansion. They believe the bill may encourage stores to remove self-checkout counters and stop advancing the technology.

According to the group, the self-checkout stations reduce the costs incurred by the store. The stores, they say, then pass along these cost savings to customers. The group believes the bill is more about preserving jobs for grocery baggers than stopping the illegal purchase of alcohol.

Surprisingly, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control operated by the state to regulate the purchase of alcohol was neither an author nor a sponsor of the bill. This is the second time De La Torre has attempted to pass a bill like this. The bill died last year in committee. Pulling a bill, as was done this year, generally means removing it before the vote because it is foreseen the bill will not pass.