Tuesday, September 6, 2011

California State Senate Set to Vote on Self-Service Checkout Booze Ban Bill This Week

Self-service or "assisted" checkout at Fresh & Easy.

The California State Senate is set to vote on AB 183, which if passed in the legislative body and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown will ban the sales of alcoholic beverages at self-service checkouts in retail stores in the Golden State, before the week is out.

In its official language, AB 183 prohibits holders of off-sale beer, wine and liquor licenses from selling alcoholic beverages using a customer-operated checkout stand located on the licensee's physical premises. [You can read the legislative analysis here.] In other words, any purchase of alcohol will require a face-to-face interaction with a store clerk if the bill becomes law in the Golden State.

Friday, September 9 is the last day of the current legislative session, and the last day both houses of the California State Legislature can vote on and pass bills in the session before it recesses until January 4, 2012.

A simple majority, 21 votes, is needed for AB 183 to pass in the California State Senate.

The bill, which originated in the California State Assembly (hence the AB designation), passed by a 48-to-26 majority in that body on May 26 of this year.

Based on our analysis, AB 183, which is authored by Assemblywomen Fiona Ma (Democrat-San Francisco), has enough votes (with a few to spare) to pass in the California State Senate.

If we're correct and the bill passes by the end of Friday's session, AB 183 will then be sent to Governor Jerry Brown, who like Ma and the majority of the bill's backers in both houses is a Democrat.

If the Governor receives AB 183 by the end of legislative business Friday, he has until October 9 to either sign or veto the bill.

If AB 183 doesn't pass or for some reason isn't voted on in the California State Senate by Friday, it will be dead for this legislative session.

If we're correct and AB 183 passes in the California State Senate this week, the opponents of the legislation, which include Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, the California Grocers Association and others (see the lists at the end of this piece), will then need to stage a last-ditch effort to persuade the Governor to veto it by the October 9, 2011 deadline.

Governor Brown hasn't spoken out publicly in favor of or against AB 183, which isn't surprising since as the chief executive of the state with the second-highest unemployment rate (12.2 %) in the nation (after Nevada) and a huge budget deficit, he has bigger fish to fry than the self-service checkout booze ban legislation.

However, based on our reporting and analysis, we believe the Governor is leaning towards signing the self-service checkout booze ban bill by an about 60% (sign) to 40% (veto) margin, which is far from the slam-dunk many of its supporters thought would be the case earlier this year.

'Tesco Fresh & Easy Law'

Legislation to ban sales of alcoholic beverages at self-service checkouts in retail stores in California was first authored in 2008. That bill, AB 523, failed to make it out of the California State Senate.

In 2010 another bill, AB 1060, passed both houses of the California State Legislature but was vetoed by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

We nicknamed the two bills, both authored by Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate, Southern California) and backed primarily by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, the "Tesco Fresh & Easy Law" because if either bill had become law it would have affected Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market more directly than any other retailer in California since it's the only chain we've been able to find that offers self-service checkout only at its 128 stores in the Golden State.

Tesco has 177 Fresh & Easy stores, all of which offer self-service checkout only, or what the grocer calls "assisted checkout" because if asked a store worker will assist shoppers with the checkout process. The 49 remaining Fresh & Easy stores are located in metropolitan Las Vegas, Nevada (21 units) and metro Phoenix, Arizona (28 stores.)

Enter 'Son of Tesco Fresh & Easy Law'

But just when Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market thought it might be able to catch a break following the 2010 veto, San Francisco Assemblywoman Fina Ma, who's also the Speaker Pro Tempore of the California State Assembly, the second highest leadership position, introduced what we've nicknamed the "Son of Tesco Fresh & Easy Law," AB 183, in late January of this year.

This time around Ma and the bill's supporters have done two things De La Torre didn't: Built a much broader coalition in favor of the legislation, which includes numerous law enforcement organizations, and downplayed the UFCW union's involvement in AB 183.

For example, in 2008 and again in 2010 the UFCW was front-and-center in touting the self-checkout booze ban legislation. This time around the union has remained largely in the background, although as we've noted in our coverage of AB 183 it's a key supporter of the legislation.

The support particularly of law enforcement will be key if as we've said AB 183 passes this week in the California State Senate.

On one side the California Grocer's Association, California Chamber of Commerce and other opponents will be attempting to bend the Governor's ear, asking him to veto the self-checkout booze ban bill.

But on the other hand, in addition to the UFCW union and the powerful MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) organizations, there will also be numerous California law enforcement organizations who argue that allowing sales of alcohol at self-service checkouts makes it easier for minors to purchase alcoholic beverages in stores, even though there's little empirical evidence to support the position, including that offered in the official legislative analysis of AB 183

A number of these law enforcement groups supported AB 1060 last year. But this year they've been much more vocal in their collective support. Supporters have also added many more law enforcement groups to the list of supporters.

As such, it will be difficult for the Democratic Governor to veto AB 183, as the forces behind it - important Democrat legislators and allies like Ma and others, the unions, MADD and law enforcement organizations statewide - make for a rather potent combination for Brown to buck should he want to veto the bill, which in practice will only directly affect one retailer in California, Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market.

But the Governor is unpredictable and has been known to buck what is often seen as conventional political wisdom, such as he did earlier this year when he vetoed the card check bill passed in the legislature which would have allowed farm workers in California to vote on unionization by filling out a card rather than using the traditional secret ballot voting process. The legislation though had much more riding on it for the Governor and the state than does AB 183, which most residents of California have little idea of, and if they do care little about.

We should know before or by Friday if AB 183 has passed in the California State Senate, as our analysis suggests will be the case, and is then sent to the Governor for his signature or veto. Stay tuned.

Key Supporters of AB 183

California Police Chiefs Association (co-source)
California Professional Firefighters (co-source)
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (co-source)
Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs
California Association of Addiction Recovery Resources
California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives, Inc.
California Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors
California Council on Alcohol Problems
California Labor Federation
California Narcotic Officers' Association
California Nurses Association
California Teamsters Public Affairs Council
City and County of San Francisco Police Department
Consumer Federation of California
County Alcohol and Drug Program Administrators Association of California
Los Angeles County Probation Officers Union
Marin Institute
Riverside Sheriffs' Association
United Food and Commercial Workers Union
Western States Council of the United Food and Commercial Workers

Key Opponents of AB 183

California Chamber of Commerce
California Grocers Association

California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce
California Independent Grocers Association
California Manufacturers and Technology Association
California Retailers Association
Central City Association of Los Angeles
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce
National Cash Register Corporation
Neighborhood Market Association

Tech America
Valley Industry and Commerce Association 

Source: State of California Legislative Analyst's Office

California Legislation to Ban Alcohol Sales at Self-Service Checkouts: Follow the Story at the Links Below

August 20, 2011: 'Son of Tesco Fresh & Easy Law': Self-Service Checkout Booze Ban Bill AB 183 Passes Out of California Senate Appropriations Committee; Headed For Senate Floor

July 27, 2011: 'Son of Tesco Fresh & Easy Law' Moving Through State Senate: Will California Determine Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's Checkout Scheme?

June 4, 2011: 'Son of Tesco Fresh Easy Law': Self-Checkout Booze Ban Bill AB 183 Sails Through California State Assembly; State Senate Next Stop

May 11, 2011: ‘Son of Tesco Fresh & Easy Law' - California Assembly Appropriations Committee Passes Self-Checkout Ban Bill AB 183 By 12-4 Margin

May 6, 2011: 'Son of Tesco Fresh & Easy Law': California State Assembly Appropriations Committee Hearing For AB 183 Cancelled

May 4, 2011: 'Son of Tesco Fresh & Easy Law': Strong Chance California Legislation to Prohibit Alcohol Sales at Self-Service Checkouts Could Pass This Year

September 30, 2010: Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Hopes Governor Scharzenegger Can Find His Veto Pen Before Midnight Tonight

September 28, 2010: Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Hoping Governor Schwarzenegger Prefers His Veto Pen When it Comes to AB 1060

September 25, 2010: Future of Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's Self-Service-Only Checkout in California Up to Governor Schwarzenegger

August 24, 2010: California State Senate Sends Bill to Governor That Could End Self-Service-Only Checkout at Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market

August 15, 2010 piece : Bill to Ban Alcoholic Beverage Sales at Self-Service Checkouts Would End 'Self-Service Only' at California Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Stores

July 14, 2008: Breaking News & Analysis: CA Assemblyman Introduces 'Tesco Fresh & Easy Law' to Ban Stores With Self-Checkout-Only From Selling Alcoholic Beverages.

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