City liquor board votes to drop ID law

Merchants, officials cheer move

public hearing next

May 05, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

The Annapolis liquor board has taken its first step to repeal a law that requires gray-haired ladies and gentlemen who walk with canes to prove they are old enough to buy a bottle of booze.

Merchants and city officials say they are pleased that the board voted 4-1 last week in favor of rescinding a city law requiring liquor store clerks to ask for identification from all patrons.

"I'm very happy it's going to be over with," said Hillard Donner, owner of Mills Wine and Spirit Mart on the City Dock. "It's been terrible. What right do I have to ask the age of someone who is obviously 80 years old? I've had customers who won't show their ID. They live alone, and it's an invasion of their privacy."

Donner said one customer, though, was thrilled when he asked for proof she was 21.

"She was 38. And she came around the counter and kissed me right on the cheek," he said. "That's fun."

Most of the time, though, he said, it's awkward: "I feel like a fool carding our older customers."

It looks as though Donner and other liquor store owners in the city won't have to check every ID for much longer. The liquor board must hold a public hearing June 5 on its intention to rescind the law. Afterward, the board is required to send a resolution to the city council for its approval.

Leonard Berman, vice chairman of the city's Alcohol Beverage Control Board, expects the council to support the law's repeal. "It's been a terrible inconvenience for the merchants and their customers," he said. "It's a silly law."

City officials were applauding the liquor board's decision last week.

"It's about time they rescinded this law," Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said. "It was definitely an overreach. And it was offensive to a number of people."

"For some people, this is an invasion of privacy, particularly for some women," the mayor said, explaining that many patrons don't feel comfortable revealing their address - or age, for that matter - to a stranger when they show identification.

Until this month, though, the majority of the liquor board refused to repeal the regulation.

The group agreed to rescind the law only after Alderman David H. Cordle Sr. promised he would ask state legislators to include the city in the list of jurisdictions that could make selling liquor to minors a civil offense.

Because offenders could be written tickets on the spot if the violation were a civil offense, liquor board members and city officials say, it would make it easier for police to enforce the underage regulations.

Because the point of the law requiring every liquor store patron to show proof of age was to cut down on underage alcohol sales, the liquor board agreed that civil citations would be a better way to achieve the goal.

One board member, Antonio Brown, who provided the lone dissenting vote, said he refused to believe that many people truly felt their safety was threatened by having to show an ID.

"They show it when they write a check at Safeway," Brown said. "I think [the board] is buckling under the pressure of a few people who feel inconvenienced. That's not a good reason."

Brown said that without checking IDs, servers have no way to identify those adults who have alcohol restrictions on their licenses. He also said he believes the law has helped reduce the sale of alcohol to people younger than 21.

The person who pushed for the law, Bay Ridge Wine and Spirits owner Charles Ferrar, said repealing it is a mistake, but he is pleased that it drew attention to underage drinking.

Ferrar proposed the liquor store law while serving on an ad hoc committee with other licensees and liquor board members.

There is no rule requiring bars or restaurants serving alcohol to card every customer.

That's baffling, Moyer said. But she added, "The biggest problem with it is that there's no evidence whatsoever that it does one thing to combat underage drinking.

"How does making a 65- year-old show their ID combat that? It doesn't," she said. "It just looks to people like another bureaucratic government regulation that defies common sense."

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