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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — A three-member subcommittee of Iowa House lawmakers this week advanced a bill that would allow Iowa restaurant workers under the age of 18 to serve alcohol.
House File 14, filed by Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, eliminates the age for serving or selling alcohol in taverns and restaurants. The bill removes the age restriction for all retail establishments licensed to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption.
Wills, however, said it’s not his intent to lower the age for serving or selling alcohol in bars and taverns from 18.
“It’s kind of a silly law that we have that minors cannot carry drinks from the bar to the table,” Wills said. “But, if that they don’t drink that drink, the minor can pick up that full drink and bring it back to the kitchen to dispose of it. … It’s a workforce issue, because (restaurants that serve alcohol) can’t hire minors because they can only do part of the job.”
The Iowa Restaurant Association and Iowa Hotel & Lodging Association support the bill.
David Adelman, a lobbyist who represents the Iowa Travel Industry Partners, said the bill addresses workforce issues within Iowa’s hospitality and tourism industry.
Many small businesses are having a hard time finding workers. Allowing teens under the age of 18 to serve or sell alcohol would give restaurants more options amid staffing shortages, he said.
“We believe it can be done in a responsible manner,” Adelman said.
Rep. John Forbes, D-Urbandale, said he’s concerned about having teens as young as 14 or 15 serving alcohol as opposed to adults, and he questioned the liability and insurance issues that arise for businesses, particularly if they serve someone underage.
“The pressure being put on an individual like that, there could be pressure from an individual to maybe try to get them to serve them underage,” Forbes said, adding “children serving alcohol in my mind sends the wrong message.”
Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, who co-owns a bar and grill, agreed that the bill as written is too “broad and vague,” but advanced the bill to continue the discussion and work on it in committee.
“I think there are some things we can do to help with the workforce shortage,” Lundgren said, noting her children grew up working in the family’s restaurant but couldn’t take an open bottle of beer over to a table.
“I think we do have training that is available through many resources that, you know, we would hold those children who decided and parents who decided to allow then to work in this industry accountable,” she said. “And, make sure that there is supervision, which really isn’t really spelled out here. I certainly wouldn’t hire a 14-year-old to serve (drinks).”
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