Conduct during alcohol compliance checks under scrutiny

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January 22, 2012 - 6:00pm

Should young people be able to lie while they're helping law enforcement check on whether bars and stores are complying with liquor laws? That's among the questions posed by a bill being debated in the Legislature.

Law enforcement agencies routinely use young people to check if bars, restaurants, and stores that sell alcohol are obeying the law when it comes to not selling to those under 21.

Currently, those young people are allowed to lie about their age, and about whether they are working with law enforcement, in order to see if those they are tyring to buy from will check their ID. But Omaha Sen. Bob Krist wants to make those practices illegal.

Lincoln Senator Colby Coash opposes the bill. Coash said it would make it unnecessary to check buyer's IDs, thereby making it easier for people to sell to minors.

"What's going to happen is that the message is going to go out real quick: Everybody has to tell the truth.' So if you see a young person, you're not quite sure, don't worry about checking their id. Just ask them if they're working for law enforcement," Coash said. "If the answer is yes, well obviously don't sell them any booze. But if the answer is no, you don't have to worry about them being from law enforcement. Now those reputable vendors will still check IDs, but let's be real. We're not going to have to worry about compliance checks if LB60 goes through."

But Senator Russ Karpicek of Wilber, a supporter of Krist's proposal, objects to how compliance checks on business that sell alcohol are currently conducted. "To me it seems like it's just not playing fair .instead of worrying about not serving the person I feel it's a game of gotcha.' I don't think that's what we want to do, that that's the way we want to treat our businesses," Karpisek said.

Krist's bill would also prohibit young people and law enforcement personnel from drinking alcohol during compliance checks. In a hearing last year, a law enforcement official said it's sometimes necessary for officers to drink to avoid standing out in a crowd.

In that hearing, groups representing bars, restaurants and convenience stores supported Krist's bill, while the Omaha Police and the Liquor Control Commission opposed it. Debate on the bill is scheduled to continue Tuesday.

Debate has finally concluded on another bill, with no action. Omaha Sen. John Nelson had proposed easing regulations on so-called "robo-calls" - automatically dialed, recorded phone calls on behalf of candidates or issues.

Under current law, people wanting to make such calls have to register their dialing devices and provide a script of what's said to the Public Service Commission. Nelson wanted to remove those requirements, saying they are confusing and could inhibit free speech.

Opponents said the PSC doesn't have any power to regulate what is said in the calls, but removing the requirements to register with it could unleash a torrent of abusive campaign messages.

After eight hours of debate stretching over five days, Nelson moved to end debate and vote. That motion requires two-thirds of the Legislature, or 33 votes, to succeed. Nelson got only 26 votes, with 17 senators opposed. That makes it virtually certain the bill will not come up again this year.

 

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