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Wash. seeks to prevent underage liquor purchases

Mike Baker, Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee approved a change to state law Wednesday that requires retailers to place stringent controls over alcohol sales at self-checkout machines.

Under the new law, supermarkets would require self-checkout machines at supermarkets to freeze transactions involving alcohol sales until a worker verifies the buyer is at least 21 years old. The measure passed unanimously through both the House and Senate amid concerns that underage shoppers were able to purchase liquor without scrutiny.

Many retailers already have employees or automated systems to monitor alcohol purchases and self-checkout machines. Store clerks were among those who supported the law because they don't want to be held responsible for minors acquiring alcohol through the self-checkout stations, which allow customers to scan their own items and finalize their purchases without assistance from a store employee.

An original version of the bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt, would have prohibited any sales of alcoholic beverages through the machines. Retailers recommended the changes to allow the sales under strong oversight.

The measure previously passed through both the House and Senate with unanimous votes.

California began prohibiting the sale of alcohol at self-checkout machines last year. Oregon lawmakers began considering a similar measure earlier this year.

The issue developed more prominence in Washington state over the past year, as voters agreed to privatize liquor sales, allowing retailers such as large supermarkets to sell those products.