Monday, April 12, 2010

See Yer ID, Please?

The Washington State Liquor Board is proposing a rule change (PDF) for the identification requirements for purchasing liquor. Specifically this: (the change is bolded)

(1) Per RCW 66.16.040, following are the forms of identification that are acceptable to verify a person's age for the purpose of selling, serving, or allowing a person to possess or consume alcohol:
(a) Driver's license, instruction permit, or identification card of any state or province of Canada, or "identicard" issued by the Washington state department of licensing per RCW 46.20.117; For the purpose of purchasing liquor, a horizontal driver's license or identicard is required.

Here is the reason for the rule change according to the board's announcement:

To further limit minor access to alcohol, the board intends to revise the rule regarding driver’s licenses and identification cards.

When you think about it, this rule does nothing of the sort. All it does is force the clerk into behaving like an irrational, unthinking person. First let's look at the other acceptable forms of ID.

(b) United States armed forces identification card issued to active duty, reserve, and retired personnel and the personnel's dependents, which may include an embedded, digital signature in lieu of a visible signature;
(c) Passport;
(d) Merchant Marine identification card issued by the United States Coast Guard; and
(e) Enrollment card issued by the governing authority of a federally recognized Indian tribe located in Washington, if the enrollment card incorporates security features comparable to those implemented by the department of licensing for Washington driver's licenses.

It's worth noting that a person under the age of 21 can be issued any one of these forms of identification. And if they tried to use it to purchase liquor then the clerk would have to look at the picture to see if it matches the person, and look at the birth date and then at the "If you were born after this date" calendar to see if the customer could legally make that purchase. This rule change does nothing more that treat the form of the driver's license/state ID as the determining factor for purchasing liquor. A vertical license/state ID is an automatic rejection even if the person is 21 or over. However, if they put their vertical format license away and show their passport or military ID instead, the clerk now has a change of mind and is asking, "Plastic or paper?" What sense does that make?

Since a Washington license expires on the individual's birthday five years after it was issued, practically every driver's license issued to a minor expires after their 21st birthday. This rule change would require the license holder to pay for a replacement license even though it is not required for the purpose of lawfully driving a vehicle. And here's a twist for those in the military. Their license is valid until 90 days after being honorably discharged from the military. That means an 18-year-old can join the military and keep the vertical format driver's license throughout their 20+ year career. Do they all do that? I don't know, but I kept the same Washington state driver's license for over 18 years. Why bother updating it if you don't have to?

So essentially what we have is a rule that has no effect on someone with a vertical format license provided they have one of the other permissible forms of ID in which case the clerk would have to look at the picture and the birth date and the calendar. So I don't understand how this limits minor access to alcohol. Regardless of the permissible form of ID, the clerk should be able to make a determination if they check the picture and the birth date.

The Liquor Control Board is also responsible for conducting compliance checks. These are published on their site. Have a look at the latest ones for Spokane, Tacoma, Spokane, and Pasco. Each one has this disclaimer:

Liquor enforcement officers conduct compliance checks assisted by investigative aides. These individuals are from 18 to 20 years old. They must present their true identification if asked by a clerk. However, they may attempt to be evasive if asked their age but not asked for identification.

The businesses that did and did not sell alcohol to a minor are listed. Question: What difference will it make if a 21-year-old has a vertical format license as long as the clerk checks it? What would be important for us to know are the reasons the clerk allowed the sale. RCW 66.1.040 states:

Where there may be a question of a person's right to purchase liquor by reason of age, such person shall be required to present any one of the following officially issued cards of identification which shows his/her correct age and bears his/her signature and photograph:

Checking ID is not mandatory unless the clerk demands it because she has a reason to question the customer's age. That makes those compliance checks open to judgment calls. I could easily see a cashier saying, "Well, she looked 21 to me." Some stores make it policy to ID everyone, however, I'm not sure what they do for people who obviously look like they're over the required age. But it seems like mandatory ID checks for anyone who looks like they're under 40--yes, more judgment call, but this one is more on the safe side--is a solution worth trying out.

One other thing. According to the Liquor Control Board's 2009 Annual Report (big honkin' PDF):

The WSLCB tracks illegal sales to minors and intoxicated customers at liquor stores to determine compliance rates. Washington liquor stores have among the highest rates in the nation at 94 percent. The private sector’s compliance rate is 78-83 percent. So what difference is the automatic disqualification of a vertical license/ID going to make as long as the ID is being checked?

More from the announcement:

You may attend the public hearing listed below, or forward your comments to the Board by mail, e-mail, or fax by April 28, 2010.

By mail:
Rules Coordinator
Liquor Control Board
P.O. Box 43080
Olympia, WA 98504-3080

By e-mail:

By fax:

Let them know what you think of the new rule.


Anonymous said...

It's a total BS law to increase revenue, just as you suggested. When you turn 21 you have to go get another license, what is that 20$, or else you can't have a drink.

If they really wanted to cut down on underage drinking they would make the ID's scannable (like in California), and the policy of every liquor store would be you have to scan the washington ID. If they don't have a Washington ID, at least with the scan requirement everyone will be asked for ID, and If you don't have it, no sale.

Or they could pretend for a minute that they don't think every liquor store employee is an absolute moron, and just have them look at the birthdate on the ID; that's the crazy solution.

Hank Greer said...

I'm not suggesting this requires 21-year-olds to pay for the horizontal license format as a means of increasing revenue. At most that would be an unnecessary expense.