Beer and wine tasting bill: A disaster waiting to happen

Just last week, the Senate passed ESB 5751 — legislation for a pilot project to offer beer and wine sampling in grocery stores.

What’s the point?

So retailers can line their pockets? The consequences of having beer and wine samples passed out to grocery store customers far outweigh the pros of this pilot project.

The bill is now in the House awaiting approval, but already passed in the Senate with a surprisingly large margin of 32-15. The project’s guidelines include 30 locations that may host six tastings, but no more than one per month; each tasting sample must be two ounces or less, up to a total of four ounces; no more than one sample of any single brand and type of beer or wine may be provided to a customer during any one day visit; and, of course, no one younger than 21 or those obviously intoxicated can be served.

It’s difficult enough to enforce the sale of alcohol to only those of legal drinking age, much less free distribution. Is it really going to be that easy to regulate a grocery store owner or employee to ensure they card every individual in line for a sample?

Grocery stores are full of families with small children. It’s hypocritical to preach to adolescents to abstain from drinking when they see grocery stores handing out samples left and right. The time, money and energy that’s going to be wasted on this bill, should it pass, would be better used for more important issues such as DUI regulation, education or transportation.

In a summary of the floor debate, according to Seth Dawson of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse & Violence Prevention, Sen. Pam Roach (R-Auburn) was one of the 15 in opposition. She said that children will see adults drinking something kids aren’t allowed to have, thus increasing their curiosity and desire to try liquor. She said we should instead continue a trend of reducing alcohol promotion and enhancing DWI prevention efforts.

Sen. Jim Hargrove (D-Hoquiam) spoke in agreed opposition. He doubted that store employees can effectively stop people from going back for seconds and thirds, concluding that as a result there will be undue drinking and driving.

Support of the bill included that of Sen. Ken Jacobsen (D-Seattle) who noted that Oregon has permitted this practice since 1995 without difficulties. He added that the Legislature has previously permitted signs that advertise free tasting in local wineries, etc.

Sen. Mike Hewitt (R-Walla Walla) also voiced support, referencing the importance of the wine industry in his region and the need for its promotion.

It’s amazing how a bill such as this can pass with such a wide margin, but other legislation such as the bill to provide the Kitsap County MADD Chapter with funding by imposing penalties on convicted DUI offenders was denied.

Those voting in favor of this beer and wine tasting bill included Senators Berkey, Brandland, Brown, Carrell, Delvin, Eide, Franklin, Hatfield, Hewitt, Hobbs, Holmquist, Honeyford, Jacobsen, Keiser, Kilmer, King, Kline, Kohl-Welles, McAuliffe, McDermott, Murray, Oemig, Pflug, Prentice, Pridemore, Regala, Rockefeller, Schoesler, Stevens, Tom, Weinstein and Zarelli.

The 15 senators who opposed the bill were Senators Benton, Fraser, Hargrove, Haugen, Kastama, Kauffman, Marr, McCaslin, Morton, Parlette, Rasmussen, Roach, Shin, Spanel, and Swecker. Excused were Senators Fairley and Sheldon.

With the bill now in the House, it is slowly creeping toward approval.