OKLAHOMA CITY - Legislation allowing accompanied minors in liquor stores is moving forward in the Oklahoma Legislature after advancing a Senate committee on Thursday.
House Bill 2325, presented by Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, would allow minors under 21 in liquor stores if they were accompanied by a parent or legal guardian of age.
"There is somewhat of a competitive disadvantage currently with packaged stores in that I can take my 14-year-old to the grocery store, and I could walk through by a wine display and I could purchase a bottle of wine with her standing three feet from me," Bice said. "I could also walk down the refrigerated beer aisle and I could purchase a 6-pack should I choose to with her standing next to me, but she is not allowed to enter a retailed spirits establishment currently."
Moore Liquor store owner Bryan Kerr told News 4 that it's a problem customers with children run into.
"If they have their child, they have two options. They can either not come into a liquor store, or they could leave their kid in a car which, if their kid is under a certain age, is illegal to do that so then they have zero options other than breaking the law," Kerr said. "Of course, it dates back to those archaic laws that we updated, but we left this little part out to be updated. We were campaigning to get it done, those of us in the business, it just didn’t get into the legislation for the overhaul."
The bill passed the Oklahoma Senate's business and tourism committee Thursday by a vote of 7 to 2.
Sen. Joe Newhouse, R-Broken Arrow raised the question of whether the bill would cause unintended consequences by "prematurely glamorizing hard alcohol" to minors.
Bice answered she did not share that concern after researching alcohol modernization laws.
"There were actually studies that showed that exposure to responsible consumption and/or purchases as we discussed putting wine and strong beer in grocery stores actually de-stigmatized those products to a young person," she said.
Kerr, who also serves as president of the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma, said some liquor stores have seen a 40 percent drop in customers since October when State Question 792 went into effect. It removed the distinction between low-point 3.2 percent alcohol beer and "strong" beer, allowing stores to sell refrigerated "strong" beer, along with grocery and convenience stores, plus wine.
If the bill is ultimately signed into law, Kerr said he doesn't think it will mean a huge financial gain for them but it could be a step in the right direction by bringing convenience to his customers.
"Nobody’s forcing their kids into the liquor store, and it really should be up to the parent to say, 'hey… you know, I drink, let me explain to you what drinking is about and, by the way, why don’t you come to the liquor store?' so it’s not such a big mystery," he said. "There’s no reason kids shouldn’t be in a liquor store; it’s 2019."
The bill is now eligible to be heard by the full Senate. It passed the full House in February.