Kids who enter bars and liquor stores would be liable for a $1,000 fine payable to the owner under a bill passed by the Legislature in the waning days of the session.
The measure, which sailed through the House and Senate unopposed, is an effort to punish minors who break alcohol laws but get off scot-free. Although it's illegal for kids to enter bars and liquor stores, officials rarely prosecute the cases even when employees confiscate fake IDs for evidence, said bill sponsor Rep. Kevin Meyer. Conversely, bar owners who admit minors can get into big trouble with the law, he said.
House Bill 214 lets bar and liquor store owners and other alcohol licensees sue minors who enter their establishments for $1,000 plus attorney fees. If a kid refused to pay, the owner could garnish the minor's permanent fund dividend, Meyer said.
"The whole intent is to get the word out to kids - don't even try to go into a bar if you're not 21," said Meyer, an Anchorage Republican.
The measure is modeled after an Anchorage ordinance in effect three years. Liquor vendors there pushed the city to act after they noticed a 3,800 percent increase in the number of fake IDs the first quarter of 1998, said O.C. Madden of The Brown Jug, an Anchorage liquor-store chain.
"Kids learned there was no penalty - no one was going to do anything about it. There is a penalty now and the parents get involved," said Madden, adding his employer has seized close to 500 fake IDs since the ordinance passed.
"None of those kids were prosecuted. If there were no ordinance in place, there would be no penalty," said Madden, who helped craft the legislation to mirror the Anchorage law.
After an employee seizes a fake ID, The Brown Jug locates the parents and sends them at least two letters demanding payment of $1,000. If that doesn't work, the company files a civil suit against the minor in small claims court, then splits the money with the employee who seized the fake ID, creating financial incentive for workers to seek them out. After the company sends batches of letters to parents, The Brown Jug stores notice an immediate decrease in the number of fake IDs peddled by minors, Madden said.
Jack Manning, owner of Duck Creek Market in the Mendenhall Valley, supported the bill.
"When a kid comes in and gets away with a purchase, a liquor store owner is facing financial ruin if somebody gets in a wreck, and what does a kid face? I've never heard of a kid getting prosecuted in this town for attempting to buy alcohol," Manning said.
Juneau investigator Ed Kalwara, of the Alaska Beverage Control Board, also supported the bill and agreed minors who illegally enter liquor stores and bars usually go unpunished. He does not believe Juneau has seen the same explosion in the number of fake IDs as Anchorage, but phony licenses do abound, Kalwara said.
"It's a problem," he said. "We have our share of phony IDs flying around."
However, most minors in Juneau acquire alcohol through adults willing to buy it for them, he said. The measure targets only minors caught on the premises, so the bill would not apply in those cases. Kalwara noted people too young to buy alcohol but old enough to buy tobacco also could face a civil suit if they buy tobacco in a place that sells liquor - even if they don't attempt an alcohol purchase.
The measure, which would require liquor licensees to conspicuously post a sign warning of the $1,000 fine, passed the Legislature unanimously. It will become law unless vetoed by Gov. Tony Knowles. A spokesman for the governor said he's not aware of any major concerns with the bill.
Kathy Dye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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