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California lawmaker seeks mandatory training for alcohol servers

Bar manager Alex Kaplan, second from right, jokes with customers while preparing their drinks at Jackson's Bar and Oven in Santa Rosa, California on Tuesday, February 23, 2016. (Photo credit: Julie Grosse)

GUY KOVNER , THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In a move to cut down on the deadly toll from drunken driving, a Southern California legislator has proposed a bill that requires training for restaurant and bar workers intended to prevent the serving of alcohol to intoxicated patrons.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, said her measure was a reaction to the deaths of two UC San Diego medical students killed in May by a wrong-way drunken driver. More than 10,000 people a year — an average of one every 52 minutes — die in crashes involving alcohol, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says.

The state-approved, four-hour training courses for bartenders, servers and managers would include “intervention techniques to prevent the service or sale of alcoholic beverages to underage or intoxicated persons,” the bill says. Other topics include the “social impact of alcohol” and its impact on the body.

The requirement would take effect in July 2020. It would give workers three months to complete an approved course, which they would have to repeat every three years.

Sonoma County and Santa Rosa already have codes requiring employee training for businesses that serve alcohol.

Introduced last week, Assembly Bill 2121, the Responsible Interventions for Beverage Servers Training Act, does not apply to wine tasting rooms, but Gonzalez is likely to amend the measure to include craft beer and wine tasting facilities, said Evan McLaughlin, the assemblywoman’s chief of staff.

“The intent is to cover all onsite consumption,” he said.

A Santa Rosa police sergeant and a restaurant bar manager voiced support for the concept.

“We’re mindful of establishments that are over-serving customers,” said Sgt. Ryan Corcoran, who supervises downtown law enforcement and traffic investigations.

Santa Rosa police handled 174 DUI collisions that caused one death and 244 injuries from 2012 through 2014, he said. Last year, 55 people were hurt in alcohol-related collisions in the city, Corcoran said.

Officers who stop an intoxicated driver routinely ask where the person has been drinking, and if he or she names a local establishment a copy of the arrest report is sent to the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Corcoran said. Police sometimes work with ABC agents on cases involving problem bars, he said.

Under state business code, anyone who sells or furnishes alcohol to a “habitual or common drunkard or to any obviously intoxicated person” is guilty of a misdemeanor.

An elderly Santa Rosa man with a history of six DUI convictions was sent to state prison for second-degree murder in the 2005 killing of a bicyclist after he drove away from a round of heavy drinking at his brother’s Larkfield bar. The brother was forced to relinquish his liquor license.

Alex Kaplan, bar manager at Jackson’s Bar and Oven on Fourth Street, said he took a “ServSafe” training on alcohol service offered by the National Restaurant Association. He said it is important for workers to be “educated on the effects of alcohol and how to recognize the signs of intoxication.”

Kaplan said he has had to ask intoxicated patrons to leave the restaurant, calling it an uncomfortable but necessary duty. “We’re responsible for protecting the restaurant we work in” and its law-abiding customers who might not return if they have witnessed a bad scene, he said.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the nonprofit organization dedicated to ending drunken driving, also supports Gonzalez’s bill, said Aaron Wade, the organization’s Sacramento program manager. Restaurants and bars should not only refuse to serve anyone who is obviously intoxicated but also try to prevent them from driving off, he said.

“If you think someone (in a vehicle) is under the influence of alcohol, you should call 911 right away,” Wade said.

At a press conference last week, Gonzalez said her bill is “a simple way for all of us to work better together to keep our streets and communities safe.”

The bill would not increase the liability of a business that serves intoxicated patrons, McLaughlin said. But lobbyists have told Gonzalez’s office that restaurants already requiring their employees to have training on alcohol service are getting a break on their insurance premiums, he said.

Santa Rosa and Sonoma County have identical code provisions requiring owners, managers and employees of businesses selling alcohol to complete a certified training program in responsible practices. Neither code applies to wineries, but the county typically includes that requirement in use permits for tasting rooms, said Jeff Brax, chief deputy county counsel.

The state ABC offers a free, voluntary program called Licensee Education on Alcohol and Drugs, or LEAD, for restaurant and bar workers. The Sonoma County Department of Health Services offers a free class in Responsible Beverage Service Training, and the Wine Institute offers training for winery employees.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.