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Senate backs plan to let 17-year-olds serve, sell alcohol in Idaho

Currently, only those 19 and older may serve or sell alcoholic beverages.
Credit: KTVB
The Idaho Senate

BOISE, Idaho — This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press.

The Idaho Senate on Thursday voted 23-10 in favor of legislation to allow 17-year-olds to serve and sell alcohol, a change sought by Idaho’s retail, restaurant and grocery industries amid a labor crunch.

Currently, only those 19 and older may serve or sell alcoholic beverages. Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said, “Often teenagers are the best, most conscientious and hard-working employees anyway. … I’m a huge advocate for putting kids to work at an early age. … If the work ethic isn’t taught early, sometimes it’s not learned at all.”

Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, debated in favor of the bill, and also disclosed a potential conflict of interest, noting that her husband works for her brother, who runs a couple of convenience stores and is considering hiring her son, who will soon turn 17. Currently, he couldn’t employ the young man behind the counter at a convenience store, she said.

“It just allows those individual entities to make those business decisions,” Den Hartog said, “and it is their license on the line, so I don’t think they will be putting at risk their license.”

Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, who voted against the bill, said, “I understand the arguments, but if this is about the pandemic, I really think we should have a sunset clause,” which would make the new law expire at a specific time.

“If it’s not about the pandemic, then I really think we need to think about what we’re doing with our enforcement of our alcohol laws,” he said. “We make a lot of efforts to control minors’ access to alcohol. … Having people of age 17 handling alcohol I don’t think is a good idea.” He added, “If it’s a question of economic expediency, we could have 14-year-olds driving 18-wheelers, but there are just some places we don’t go.”

Guthrie said the penalties for non-compliance with alcohol laws are “substantial,” and said, “A business owner would not risk that.”

To become law, the bill, SB 1308, still would need to clear a House committee, pass the full House, and receive the governor’s signature.

This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more on IdahoPress.com.

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