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Bill relaxes alcohol restrictions for underage workers

Interns and employees between the ages of 18 and 23 in the alcoholic beverage industry will be able engage in handling liquor under certain circumstances, if a bill presented in the Legislature is adopted.

House Bill 1299, by Rep. Kelly Chambers, R-Puyallup, would allow certain businesses to employ interns and employees between 18 and 21 to transport, handle or possess liquor, said Matt Sterling.

The bill would also permit a bar or restaurant to allow underage employees to stock and handle liquor if a person over the age of 21 is present and supervising, Sterling said.

It would allow wineries to have interns or employees between 18 and 21 to engage in wine production-related work at a winery’s licensed location as well, he said. The intern or employee would need to be a student in a college or university, and an intern must be enrolled in a required course for programs involving wine and viticulture.

Chambers said in the 2022 legislative session, a similar bill was passed involving only the wine industry, and she would like to get HB 1299 through the legislative process this session so other industries can employ 18-to-21 year olds under the supervision of someone older than 21.

Washington State University has a wine program, and students who are over 18 are able to work in wine production, she said. But, if they complete the program before they turn 21, they would not be able to continue with their employment or participate in a higher education program.

“At the same time, wineries are already family friendly. You can be under 21 and be in a winery, but you couldn’t go into the back where the barrels and the warehouse and the labs are.”

Chambers said employers facing worker shortages would benefit from younger employees helping with some of the behind-the-scenes production and in the manufacturing process.

“Everyone is needing labor and work,” she said. “It’s not a consumption piece, but it’s more of a workforce piece where they get to learn the trade and do a job and help the industry.”

The Regulated Substances and Gaming Committee unanimously voted to move the bill forward.