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Common sense might not keep you from being carded

May 15, 2011

A 2010 Indiana law that required everyone buying carryout alcohol to show identification, regardless of age, brought lawmakers piles of email criticism and plenty of ridicule from senior citizens frustrated about showing identification to buy a six-pack.

But a change in the law designed to add a shot of common sense might not keep Grandma from being carded the next time she stops to pick up some wine for dinner.

The revised law that takes effect July 1 requires that only those who appear to be younger than 40 show ID when buying alcohol. But some retailers who embraced the stricter provisions as a way to crack down on underage alcohol sales say they're not ready to give customers the benefit of the doubt.

"It was a good policy, it still is a good policy," said Mike Lange, operations manager at Cap N' Cork, a Fort Wayne-based liquor store chain that will continue carding everyone in the store. "People have gotten used to it now."

In fact, the real winners in the new law might be lawmakers, who can use the changes to fend off the kinds of criticism that gave them a post-session hangover.

"Certainly people are entitled to run their businesses the way they want to," said Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City. "We may still get the complaints, but I will make it very clear about what the law is going to be. If you are a World War II veteran and want to buy a bottle of wine, you're under no legal obligation to show picture ID in order to buy it."

The state law sets a minimum standard when it comes to carding, but businesses have always been able to apply their own standards.

The question for many stores is whether consumers are so annoyed by a strict policy that they'll go somewhere else to shop.

It's a risk retailers appear willing to take.

John Livengood, president of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, urged buyers to understand why stores are sticking with the strict policy.

"If you lose a few people because of that, maybe we'll pick up a few others who are appreciating what we're doing," he said. "There's a worthwhile goal here."

Many retailers liked the law because clerks didn't have to make a judgment call about who appeared to be old enough to buy alcohol.

In the six months before the 2010 law took effect, the Indiana State Excise Police reported 701 violations against businesses that sold alcohol to minors. In the six months after the law took effect, there were 251 violations.

Fewer violations mean fewer fines for stores.

"It doesn't take many underage sales violations to add up in fines to what they might lose in business from a few disgruntled people," Livengood said.

Many stores are still determining what policy to use. The revised law doesn't take effect until July 1, so even senior citizens should prepare to show their ID until then.

"The fate of Western civilization probably does not rest upon this particular ID law, but people did find it to be an annoyance and they did think it was an example of government not acting with very much common sense," Pelath said. "The good lesson is that government, at least in this one case, is still capable of hearing complaints and acting appropriately in response to them."

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