D.C. pushes crackdown on underage alcohol sales

Local,DC,Alan Blinder

D.C. officials are trying to crack down on businesses that sell alcohol to minors without even asking for the customer's identification, but the move has drawn the ire of the city's influential restaurant industry.

Under new guidelines the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board hopes to implement, a first offense of failing to ask minors for proof of age would be classified as an "egregious" violation. Such an offense would prompt a mandatory fine of at least $2,000 and a possible suspension of a business's license to sell alcohol.

"A number of investigative reports that the board reviewed over a period of time involved instances where the establishments didn't bother to ask the minor for identification, and that was of concern," said Fred Moosally, the director of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration. "They felt that a warning shouldn't be given if an establishment didn't ask a minor for ID."

The board unanimously supported the regulations in two votes earlier this year, but the D.C. Council still must approve the changes.

Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham, whose chairs the council committee that oversees the city's alcohol laws, said he had not made a decision about whether to support the proposed guidelines.

"We want the laws to be effective," Graham said in a telephone interview from Uruguay. "We would want to look at this carefully."

But the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington has spent months pushing back against the tougher rules.

"If somebody simply doesn't ask for an ID, we don't see where that should be an egregious violation," said Andrew Kline, the legislative representative for the trade group, which represents more than 700 restaurants and their vendors.

Kline added that the board's decision to press ahead with the changes had blindsided RAMW.

"We're disappointed that the board published these proposed regulations because we were clear in our opposition at the hearing, we offered to work with the board, the board told us they would work with us and they went ahead and published anyway," Kline said. "We thought the board desired a better working relationship with the business community."

Moosally said District businesses largely comply with laws banning alcohol sales to minors.

In 2011, Moosally said, ABRA conducted 937 compliance checks. In only 89 instances -- 9.5 percent of the time -- did businesses sell alcohol to minors.

The compliance rate has also been climbing. As recently as 2008, the figure stood at 85 percent, Moosally said.

Even with the gains, the District's compliance rate trails that of Virginia, which logged a 98 percent last year. Still, D.C. easily outpaced Montgomery County's 79 percent.

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