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Grocery store beer, wine samples? On the House

Sat., March 8, 2008

OLYMPIA – Think of it: You go to the supermarket and en route from the carrots to the fish sticks, you stop and …

Drink some beer.

Yup. Barring an unexpected legislative hiccup, a handful of grocery stores across the state will begin offering free wine and beer samples this fall.

Some lawmakers, worried about drivers and what children will think, say it’s an unbelievably bad idea.

“Let’s take a look at this bill. It’s about drinking – in grocery stores,” said Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland. “What are we thinking?”

For years, beer- and wine-makers have been asking lawmakers to let shoppers try their products. On Friday, the House narrowly approved the proposal over bipartisan objections.

“You’re going to see booze being handed out for free. That’s wrong,” said Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, a retired Navy captain.

Proponents say it’s unlikely that the samples – a third of a glass of wine or a sixth of a beer – will turn a neighborhood Safeway or Yoke’s into a saloon.

The one-year pilot project, they say, will follow strict rules set up by state regulators. Samples will be limited. Only 30 stores statewide can participate in the pilot. The tasting area will be segregated. And ads will be restricted to inside the store.

“You won’t be seeing signs out on the street: ‘Come and get your free wine sample,’ ” said Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside.

Oregon already allows such sampling, he said.

Some lawmakers – particularly from wine-growing districts – suggested that their colleagues are being a little puritanical.

“Wine is a legal product,” said Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla. “And if we quit putting such a stigma on that, maybe our kids, when they grow up, would not think that it was such a great thing to have alcohol.”

Rep. Al O’Brien, D-Seattle, a retired police officer, argued that even a little alcohol can affect someone with a low tolerance. It seems unwise, he said, to be serving any wine or beer in places where children and shopping carts are rushing through busy parking lots.

But Rep. Brendan Williams, D-Olympia, noted that parents take their kids to restaurants or sporting events and often drink far more than the small samples allowed by Senate Bill 5751. In fact, when he took his 5-year-old to an Idaho theme park last summer, he said, “it was easier, frankly, to find hard liquor on a hot summer day than it was to find ice cream.”

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