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Bill to allow home delivery of beer, wine in SC advances amid pandemic's shopping changes

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Groceries delivered by Shipt (copy)

Groceries delivered by Shipt and other grocery delivery companies could include beer and wine under a bill being debated in the S.C. House. File/Hanna Raskin

COLUMBIA — A bill allowing stores to deliver beer and wine to homes along with the grocery orders moved forward in the S.C. House on Feb. 3 despite opposition from a state law enforcement leader.

Advocates for the bill, which include the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, argue that the change would recognize that more consumers shop online, especially during the pandemic.

Opponents worry that enforcement of the law, especially the risk of orders being handed to underage drinkers, will be difficult.

The House subcommittee that backed the home booze deliveries also approved a measure that would allow stores to include beer and wine in orders picked up through curbside delivery, another shopping option that has become far more popular during the COVID-19 outbreak. The panel held a debate on the curbside bill on Jan. 27.

State Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Columbia, told The Post and Courier that she supported efforts to make delivery of beer and wine legal before the coronavirus shifted shopping habits. 

"The pandemic has shown us that it is even more necessary," said Bernstein, the delivery bill's House sponsor.

Bernstein sometimes uses services such as Shipt and Instacart to have groceries delivered when she is busy and appreciates the convenience, she said. 

The coronavirus pandemic means that some shoppers are using the services to reduce their health risks by not going into stores themselves, she said.  

The State Law Enforcement Division will struggle to keep an eye on such deliveries as they happen, according to Maj. Frank O'Neal, who oversees enforcement of narcotics, alcohol and vice laws for the agency.

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SLED is already hard-pressed to enforce the current 11 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales at bars and restaurants meant to help slow the spread of the deadly virus, he told a Judiciary subcommittee.

"It's almost unenforceable to us," O'Neal said of the delivery law. 

The bill requires workers delivering grocery orders that include beer or wine be at least 21 years of age and use technology to verify IDs used in purchases.

O'Neal said that underage drinkers would be more tempted to use grocery delivery services to get beer and wines than other delivery services, such as an interstate delivery of a case of wine, which South Carolina now allows.

Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Columbia, also testified against the bill, saying he worries as a father of three that grocery deliveries would make beer and wine too available to underage drinkers.

The system is vulnerable because teens have access to fake identifications, Finlay said: "It's going to be a problem."

The change is supported by companies involved in the growing business of grocery delivery, including Shipt. The S.C. Chamber of Commerce called it a way to give consumers what they want using technology that is becoming more commonly used for sales.

"Businesses that can offer a beer or wine delivery option should be allowed to do so — safely and in strict adherence with underage drinking laws," Swati Patel, interim CEO of the chamber, said in a statement.

Shipt regularly hears from consumers who would like to be able to add beer and wine to their grocery orders, according to Evangeline George, director of public affairs for the delivery company. 

Bernstein understands that the change would face concerns about enforcing drinking laws but believes it's time for South Carolina to embrace how consumers would prefer to shop.

Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikefittsat140

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