In SC, a push to have alcohol delivered to your door is met with resistance

State |

--COLUMBIA, S.C. -- For a stay-at-home mom like Barbie Fulda, modern grocery delivery services such as Shipt and Instacart can save great chunks of time she once spent winding through store aisles each week.

But customers of those burgeoning online apps in South Carolina have run into one major obstacle: The services can't deliver beer, wine or liquor here under current state law.

That means customers like Fulda must make a separate trip to the grocery store for a case of Miller Lite or a bottle of Pinot Grigio.

"It's very annoying," said Fulda, a 49-year-old Columbia resident who orders about $200 in groceries through Shipt each week and has it delivered to her door -- saving her time to cook, clean and ferry her two teenagers to practices.

She's not alone. The frustration extends to South Carolinians who use their grocery store's mobile app to order their items for curbside pickup. Under current state law, if those customers also want to buy alcohol, they must find a parking space and walk into the store to buy it separately -- an inconvenience for working moms, seniors and the disabled.

Efforts are underway at the State House to change that, legalizing the delivery of beer and wine for grocery stores and courier services like Postmates and Grubhub.

But those proposals -- filed this year with bipartisan support -- have met a host of resistance from evangelicals and crime victims' advocates who worry they could have unintended consequences, including making it easier for minors to get alcohol and binge drink.

If the bill passes, "you don't have to walk into a store that has cameras and show an ID that's probably going to be fake," said state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, a Columbia Democrat who has led a legal crusade to shut down bars in the capital city's Five Points entertainment district.

"This is making it much easier to get a hold of a highly regulated intoxicant. More people will die this year in South Carolina from the misuse of alcohol -- both immediate and long term -- than all the other drugs put together. Why do we want to make it easier to get it?"

Changing with the times

Alcohol delivery angst wasn't an issue a decade ago, or even five years ago. But just as technology has revolutionized transportation with ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft, it has offered new ways to order groceries and meals.

Companies like Shipt and Instacart will pick up your groceries and deliver them to your door, for a fee. Grubhub, Postmates, Uber Eats and Door Dash ferry groceries and meals from stores and restaurants. Companies like Drizly, Saucey and Minibar do the same for beer, wine and liquor.

Retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target offer curbside pickup so customers can order their groceries hours or even days in advance and pick them up without ever entering the store.

Curbside pickup has become especially popular among seniors and retirees at the Wal-Mart and Sam's Club in the greater Bluffton area, according to state Rep. Weston Newton, a Beaufort Republican who cosponsored H. 3631 to allow alcohol in those orders. Newton said those seniors have called him to complain about the current law.

Twenty-six states allow alcohol delivery at curbside pickup already, S.C. Retail Association Executive Director Rebecca Leach told a panel of lawmakers at a hearing in April.

And 34 states -- including nearby North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee -- allow stores or third-party apps to deliver alcohol to a purchaser's door. Three more -- Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina -- have bills pending in their capitols to make that change.

The bill in South Carolina has support among some pro-business Republicans and other legislators whose constituents have requested the change.

"We've got to adapt our laws to accommodate technology," said state Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Richland, who filed that bill. "It doesn't mean people are going to drink more because of it. I don't think there is a legitimate reason not to move forward with these bills."

'Public safety issue'

Laura Hudson can think of a few.

The director of the volunteer S.C. Crime Victims' Council says allowing curbside pickup of alcohol is "an invitation for young people."

A minor might think twice about trying his luck with a fake ID against the cameras and ID scanners of a grocery store, but the same teenager might be more emboldened if he has to fool only one employee without ever entering the building, Hudson said.

It will also be more difficult to enforce underage drinking laws if alcohol can be ordered through an app and delivered by a courier, Hudson said. Critics also worry those third-party apps could be used to transport loads of cases of beer, fueling house parties that lead to binge drinking and drunken driving.

"It's a public safety issue," Hudson said.

Harpootlian said he is "a long way from convinced this is needed," adding it is easy to go into a store and grab a bottle of wine.

Critics also are concerned that the proposals -- H. 3631 and H. 4415 -- could be expanded to include liquor, not just beer and wine. Liquor companies are going to lobby to have their drinks included in the proposed legislation, Will Kinney, a lobbyist for the Distilled Spirits Council, told House members in April.

The bills also face opposition from evangelicals who typically oppose bills that expand alcohol access.

One of them, state Rep. John McCravy, R-Greenwood, walked out of an House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the curbside pickup bill in an apparent effort to keep the bill from advancing.

When McCravy left wordlessly and abruptly, the panel had only two members left and lacked a quorum necessary for a binding vote. Scrambling, the committee's chairman, Charleston Republican Peter McCoy, had to appoint state Rep. Eddie Tallon, R-Spartanburg, to the panel so the proposal could be advanced.

"There needs to be a good reason if we're going to proliferate alcohol and put it out there in a way we haven't before," McCravy told The State this week. "We need to make sure that it's a safe bill that doesn't make our alcohol situation worse."

Joe Mack, a lobbyist who represents the S.C. Baptist Convention, said the organization would fight any proposal to "liberalize alcohol in South Carolina."

"We don't think that's a good thing," he said. "It causes increased domestic violence, increased DUIs and increased numbers of people being killed in accidents."

'Uphill battle'

The proposals ran out of time to pass in 2019 but can be considered again when the General Assembly returns to Columbia in January for the second year of its two-year session.

Bernstein, who sponsored the delivery bill, said she thinks it has a real shot to pass. But that might require some compromise.

Hudson and McCravy plan to push for tougher measures to ensure alcohol isn't sold or delivered to minors, such as requiring ID scanners at curbside pickup and holding services liable when they provide alcohol to minors or already drunk customers.

They also want any alcohol sold to be non-chilled so customers aren't tempted to drink and drive.

Newton said he is open to suggestions.

"If appropriate measures are put in place to make sure alcohol is not being sold to underage people, why would we distinguish between alcohol and hamburger patties," Newton said. "We ought to be looking at how we can get government out of the way and still have the appropriate protections in place."

Still, Hudson said she is frustrated at what she considers an "uphill battle" at the State House against the alcohol lobby.

She said advocates have a hard time pushing legislators to require interlock ignition devices for first-time drunk driving offenders and mandate alcohol server training for bartenders, even as they fight new bills every year that would expand access to alcohol.

"I would not be one bit surprised if they let daycare centers sell it one day because parents are stressed," she said.

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(c)2019 The State (Columbia, S.C.)

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