Sunday, May 27, 2001

Ind. OKs under-21 servers

The Associated Press

        INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana's restaurant industry is praising a new law that will allow employees younger than 21 to serve alcohol, but some opponents remain concerned it will cripple efforts to curb underage drinking.

        Under current law, it's illegal for anyone under 21 to serve alcohol in a restaurant — a fact restaurant advocates say creates hiring and scheduling difficulties.

        Legislation signed by Gov. Frank O'Bannon this month is designed to alleviate some of those pressures. The new law, which takes effect July 1, will allow 19- and 20-year-olds to serve alcoholic beverages in family dining areas.

        Before they start serving drinks, underage servers must complete a state-accredited training program that will teach them how to recognize fake identification, what to do when someone appears intoxicated and how to spot an underage drinker.

        The underage servers also must be under the supervision of someone 21 or older who has been through the program.

        “We built in all kinds of safeguards,” said John Livengood, president of the Restaurant and Hospitality Association of Indiana.

        Lobbyists have tried in past legislative sessions to change the serving age to compete with surrounding states. Mr. Livengood said all of Indiana's neighbors have lowered their requirements, which makes it especially hard for restaurants near state lines to keep qualified employees from hopping over the border, where they can earn bigger tips by serving alcoholic drinks.

        Some opponents fear the move could be a setback in the fight against underage drinking.

        “Alcohol is already very accessible to minors,” said Lisa Hutcheson, project director for the Indiana Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking. “We feel that this bill could allow it to become even more so.”

        Ms. Hutcheson said that despite the server-training requirement, lowering the age threshold might make it easier for minors to serve alcohol to their underage friends.

        But Clifford Ong, chairman of the state's Alcoholic Beverage Commission, said minors already can sell liquor at grocery and convenience stores.

        “An 18-year-old who works at a pharmacy can ring up Jack Daniels for off-premise consumption,” Mr. Ong said.

        He said the mandatory training program and restaurant supervision for minors should eliminate many problems.


               Provisions of a bill that allows underage restaurant employees to serve alcohol:

        • Allows 19- and 20-year-olds to serve alcohol in restaurants after attending a training program.

        • Allows an Internet company to acquire an alcohol-sales permit.

        • Prohibits the issuance of an employee's permit to those who have been convicted of operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

        • Allows express hotels to sell alcoholic beverages.

        • Permits hotels to set different prices for alcoholic beverages served in different restaurants within the same hotel complex.

        • Increases the fee schedule for all kinds of alcohol-related permits.

        • Makes it a Class C infraction to purchase tobacco for a minor.


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