Talk about naked self-interest. As Toledo and other Ohio cities continue efforts to curb underage drinking, merchants who sell alcoholic beverages are actually trying to shuck responsibility for the illegal and dangerous practice.
Lobbyists have descended on the General Assembly to push for passage of legislation that would allow liquor permit holders to escape license suspension or revocation for illegal sales in such places as bars, carry-outs, and groceries. Instead, penalties would fall entirely on employees who made the sales.
The alcohol merchants also want limits on undercover operations run by local police and state agents to discourage sales to teenagers.
The legislature should reject this blatant attempt at dodging responsibility for keeping alcohol out of the hands of those under 21. Likewise, authorities should not be stripped of the tools they need to enforce a well established law.
In view of the damage done by alcohol-related traffic accidents involving minors, the law should be tightened rather than relaxed.
As it stands now, clerks and bartenders who sell to youngsters can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both. Their employer, the liquor permit holder, then gets an automatic citation and a hearing in Columbus that can lead to license suspension or revocation.
Amendments to a bill requiring training for bar bouncers, now in the state Senate, would drop punishment for the permit holder. Groups seeking the loophole include the Council of Retail Merchants and the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association.
Letting permit holders escape responsibility for employing workers trained to head off underage sales doesn't make sense and would only worsen a serious problem. It might make sense to prohibit authorities conducting sting operations on suspect retailers from using fake identifications, but that should be the only concession.
As we said last December after a major crackdown in Toledo, there are indications that retailers will continue selling beer and booze to minors if they feel they can get away with it.
And that is precisely what the state should not allow to happen.