Sunday column: On an ignored law, liquor stores and Scam PACs

An elderly, gray-haired and rather wrinkled lady with a walking cane, ahead of yours truly in the line to buy a bottle of wine at a liquor store recently, was asked for her driver’s license to show that she was older than 21 and legally entitled to buy an alcoholic beverage.

“That’s the law,” said the clerk, eyeing the $50 bill the lady had laid on the counter.

“I don’t have one. It expired. I don’t drive anymore,” she replied, quickly adding that “Johnny does.”

Johnny, standing beside her, turned out to be her 20-something grandson who had driven her to the store in helping her run errands for the day. Johnny produced his photo ID and made the purchase for his grandmother, using her $50 bill.

“That’s really not the law anymore,” I volunteered as they stepped aside. “As of July 1 this year, the Legislature changed things. Now, if a person reasonably appears to be 50 years of age or older, presentation of a photo ID is not required. I’d say this lady reasonably appears to be over 50. Maybe even more than I do.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” said the clerk. “Can I see your driver’s license, please?”

Maybe I grumbled something about disrespect for senior citizens in producing it, then exited to find the grandmother and grandson waiting to ask if there really was such a law.

Yes, there is. Couldn’t advise a specific reference off the top of my old head, but could recall that it was part of a bill sponsored by then-Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville — who in April resigned his House seat and became chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party — that made an array of miscellaneous changes to state liquor laws.

Upon a subsequent check it’s Public Chapter 428, filed by Haynes as HB542, which declares in subsection 3 that the standing mandate for every individual making a purchase from a liquor store present a photo ID applies only to those “whose physical appearance does not reasonably demonstrate an age of fifty (50) years or older.”

The phrasing is pretty awkward, basically drafted by lobbyists for the retail liquor sellers, according to Keith Bell, director of the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which enforces the law.

When it comes to enforcement, Bell said, the ABC has never penalized any dealer for selling to a person of appropriate age unless “obviously intoxicated,” as prohibited under a separate provision of law. Retailers may have a company policy mandating check of all IDs, he said, but that’s not state law.

However, he said, “we always get the blame.”

At any rate, the mention of the Republican party inspired grandmother and grandson into a fairly lengthy discourse on their political thoughts, starting with irritation at the government requiring an obviously old lady to prove she was an old lady — 84, she alleged, though without photo ID evidence, how can one be sure? — and proceeding to other topics. It’s safe to say that both might be categorized as anti-establishment Republicans with strong tea party leanings.

Indeed, the lady declared she was sending $50 a month to a group that was “fighting Obama.” Her grandson said he didn’t know that and wasn’t sure it was a good idea, given her fairly limited financial income — Social Security and her late husband’s pension. She was a lifelong mother/homemaker with a hobby of being a wine connoisseur.

This encounter brought to mind recent articles I read on “Scam PACs,” which basically are groups, some of them leaning to the left and others to the right, that send out direct mail or email solicitations asking for money to stop various evils about to be committed by those scumbags on the other side, who will doubtless succeed unless you help with a contribution promptly. Then all the money goes not to a political cause, but into the pocketbook of the soliciting scam PAC people. A Center for Responsive Politics piece recounted tales of elderly folks going bankrupt as a result of their political passion and provided links to lists of donors in some suspect PACs.

Didn’t mention that to the lady and her grandson. I did later look at one of those links and found what maybe was her name among the listed donors to a suspected scam PAC.

If a photo ID is required for voting and sometimes for buying a bottle of wine, maybe it ought to be required for donating to a PAC, too?