Did you know your kids are buying beer at the local grocery store, using the self-checkout lanes? Really! They’re putting both beer and soda in their shopping cart, scanning the soda twice, and leaving with the beer. Why, there oughta be a law!

Actually, there already are laws meant to prevent this. It’s against the law for kids to buy beer, for example. And it’s against the law to take something you didn’t pay for. But those laws apparently aren’t preventing this scourge of underage beer-self-checker-outers in Oklahoma. Democratic House Minority Leader Scott Inman is proposing new legislation that would prohibit beer from being sold at self-service checkouts in the Sooner State. He first proposed the measure earlier this year, but his fellow lawmakers didn’t go for it. So now he’s vowing to bring it up again next year.

Inman has not personally witnessed minors sneaking beer past self-checkout machines, but he has actually been in grocery stores before, where it just might be happening. “I have personally witnessed times when the self-checkout stands were completely unmanned,” he told KTUL-TV. Therefore, “inadequate staffing, inconsistent monitoring and computer failures are allowing our young adults to illegally purchase alcohol.”


The Oklahoma Grocers Association says the proposed law appears to be a solution in search of a problem. “We do have security measures in place,” association chairman Keith Kinnamon tells The Oklahoman. The self-checkout scanners “freeze up” and require cashier or manager intervention when alcohol is scanned. The problem that Inman is seeking to outlaw is “essentially shoplifting” – which, of course, is already illegal, Kinnamon explains to the Tulsa World. Besides, such a ban “would be a hardship for adult customers who want to buy beer and are in a hurry.” Because no one wants to get in the way of thirsty grocery store patrons who want beer and want it RIGHT NOW.

If it sounds like a far-fetched proposal, a similar ban is actually already in place in the state of California. “It closes a door for minors wanting to obtain alcohol,” the bill’s sponsor said when it passed late last year. “The Governor’s signature will ensure that alcohol is treated no differently than tobacco and spray paint.”

But there’s a considerable backstory to California’s law. Supporters cited statistics and studies that showed minors were able to buy beer in self-checkout lanes during spot tests, but they offered little evidence that it was actually happening extensively. It turns out that one of the California law’s biggest supporters was the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents thousands of grocery workers throughout the state. And the grocery chain most affected by the law is Fresh & Easy, a nonunion shop that has no full-service checkout lanes – or union-represented cashiers – at all. The law would force Fresh & Easy to retool its self-checkout-lanes-only business model, and hire some cashiers who just might want to be represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers union. “It’s aimed directly at Fresh & Easy because [the UFCW] is looking to shut it down,” the head of the California Grocers Association told Supermarket News. The Grocers Association objected, and now the law remains in limbo – it’s on the books, but unenforced.

Back to Oklahoma, where they’re still considering whether this is really a problem. Perhaps the state could just ban anyone under 21 from using self-checkout lanes altogether, suggests one lawmaker. In reality, Oklahoma is a right-to-work state, where supermarkets are only permitted to sell low-alcohol beer. So the United Food and Commercial Workers union doesn’t have a dog in this hunt, and minors are unlikely to shoplift en masse in order to get blotto on lighter-than-light beer. “What we’re seeing in California,” the Grocers Association’s Kinnamon concludes, in something of an understatement, “I don’t know that we’ve seen it in Oklahoma.”

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