California resident Rich Saavedra today launched an online petition designed to encourage the California State Legislature to repeal AB 183, the law passed by a majority of legislators in both houses last year and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, that banned the purchase of alcoholic beverages at self-service checkouts in retail stores in the Golden State.
In the petition, which is posted at thepetitionsite.com (view it here), Saavedra says self-service checkouts, such as those used exclusively at Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market - he doesn't mention Fresh & Easy specifically - have safeguards built-in that prevent minors from being able to purchase alcohol using the checkouts, which is the primary reason supporters of the law gave for enacting AB 183 last year.
Those safeguards in place at Fresh & Easy include the fact the self-service checkout system locks up whenever a customer scans an alcoholic beverage item.
Once the system locks up a store worker comes to the checkout, checks the shopper's identification card - the chain's policy is to do so if the customer looks to be under 40-years-old - and if the shopper is 21, the minimum legal age to buy alcohol in California, the employee then punches a special code into the machine, which allows the checkout process to continue.
Since AB 183 has become law we've observed the store clerks remaining at the checkouts, monitoring the process, or scanning the customer's alcoholic beverage items for them.
Explaining his reason for launching the online petition today, Richard Saavedra says: "Let's send a message to the lawmakers of the state of California that we will not stand for frivolous laws. They should be concentrating on the bigger decisions that impact the residents of California, like the state budget, and making sure we have enough Police and Firefighters."
So far Saavedra's just-posted online petition has three signatures, including his. He hopes to get at least 10,000 signatures on the petition.
Although AB 183 is law in California, it isn't currently being enforced because the California Grocers Association (CGA), the trade group for food and grocery retailers doing business in California, has filed a lawsuit challenging the enforcement mechanism put forth in a December 23, 2011 advisory memo early this year by the California Alcohol Beverage Control Agency (ABC), which is charged with enforcing the law.
Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market is a member of the state grocers' association.
Mary Kasper, Fresh & Easy's general counsel/corporate secretary and a vice president at the chain, has played a major role in the CGA's filing of the lawsuit.
Kasper's worked with the trade group in the past. For example, prior to joining Tesco's Fresh & Easy she was general council and corporate secretary for Kroger-owned Ralphs' Grocery Company, which is the market share-leading food and grocery retailer in Southern California.
In its lawsuit the grocers' association asked the California Third District Court of Appeals, which is where CGA filed the suit, to halt the ABC's enforcement plan, which the court did, until the lawsuit is resolved.
That halt, and thus the ABC's ability to enforce the self-service checkout alcohol sales ban, which primarily affects Tesco's Fresh & Easy because its the only chain or independent in California that uses a self-serve checkout system only (which it calls assisted checkout because store clerks assist customers if asked), remains in place until the court rules on the lawsuit, which has yet to occur.
|Assisted checkout at Tesco's Fresh & Easy.|
Fresh & Easy and all other retailers are allowed to continue using the self-service checkouts to sell alcoholic beverages until there's a resolution by the court over the CGA's lawsuit challenging the ABC's enforcement scheme and plans. This is why, for example, if you shop at a Fresh & Easy store in California, you haven't seen any changes in the self-checkout system pertaining to alcohol purchases, even though AB 183 became law January 1, 2012.
Repealing a bill that's been passed into law and signed by the Governor, such as AB 183, is difficult to do in California.
What has to occur from a realistic and politically practical standpoint is that a legislator essentially has to introduce a new bill addressing the issue.
For example, the new bill could be written to once again make it legal for alcohol transactions to be conducted by retailers at self-service checkouts.
Conversely, a member of the legislature could author a new bill that simply modifies aspects of AB 183, such as making it legal to sell alcohol using self-service checkouts as long as a store clerk is present while the customer scans his or her grocery purchases (or does the scanning for the shopper), and that identification is checked prior to allowing the customers to scan the order if it includes alcoholic beverages, for example.
These and/or other provisions could be attached to such a bill, so rather than a full repeal of AB 183 the current law is instead modified, allowing retailers to use self-service checkouts to sell alcohol but placing various conditions on such use.
It's this latter approach that, in our analysis, we believe offers the most politically realistic approach for those in California who want to see the current law changed.
However, since the court is still considering the CGA's lawsuit, it's really a moot point because how AB 183 is enforced, and thus the law itself for all practical terms, is now in the California Third District Court of Appeals' hands.
If the court does rule in the CGA's favor, it's likely the law's author, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (Democrat-San Francisco), and supporters will move to amend AB 183 so it not only remains as law but makes enforcing it - banning alcohol sales completely at self-service checkouts - by the ABC possible. It is ambiguous language in the original bill that paved the way for the lawsuit in the first place.
There currently remains a solid majority in the Democrat-controlled California State Assembly and California State Senate in support of AB 183. Legislators have been known to change their minds though, with pressure - it's called politics. And this is what Saavedra says in his online petition he hopes getting the 10,000 signatures will help to do - influence members of the legislature to take a second look at the law.
Another approach that could be taken would be to put an initiative on the ballot in California that would repeal the self-service checkout booze ban law using the Golden State's popular voter-initiative process. Such initiatives can be sponsored by trade groups like the CGA, retailers, such as Fresh & Easy, other groups, and state residents (or all combined).
The direct-to-voters initiative process is an approach regularly taken in California - Governor Brown is using it himself for a set of budget and tax proposals that will be on the November 2012 election ballot.
Such an initiative might in fact be the best way to resolve the issue because it would allow California voters, who also are consumers and shoppers at the state's grocery and other retail format stores offering alcoholic beverages for sale, to decide whether or not the adult beverages should or should not be allowed to be purchased at self-service checkouts in California stores.
February 5, 2011: Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Testing 'Scan As You Shop' Mobile Self-Checkout System at Burbank Store
January 1, 2011: Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Gets A Reprieve of Sorts On California Self-Service Checkout Booze Ban Law
December 29, 2011 piece for details: The 'Fresh & Easy' Writ: California Grocers Association Files Lawsuit Over Self-Service Checkout Booze Ban Law.
December 8, 2011: Bad Timing With New Law Effective January 1, 2012: Fontana, California Fresh & Easy Store Cited For Allegedly Selling Alcohol to Minors
October 10, 2011: Gov. Signs AB 183: End of Self-Service Checkout Only in California For Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market if Stores to Still Sell Alcohol
September 9, 2011: 'Son of Tesco Fresh & Easy Law': Self-Service Checkout Booze Ban Bill Passes California State Senate; Headed to Governor's Desk For Action
See additional stories and analysis on AB 183 here.