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Soon, 17-year-olds will be allowed to serve alcohol at Michigan restaurants

Amie Johnson
The bill requires that a supervisor who's at least 18 be present during a shift when a 17-year-old is serving alcohol.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer promises to sign a bill into law that will lower the minimum age from 18 to 17 for employees serving alcohol at restaurants or bars in Michigan.

State lawmakers approved the legislation this week.

Scott Ellis, a lobbyist and the executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, says the change is intended to ease a labor shortage.

"The big thing for us is we are having trouble getting staff and this opens up another whole pool of (a) younger generation coming into the industry," Ellis said.

But regulators with the Michigan Liquor Control Commission expressed some concerns. In written testimony, the commission said it's worried 17-year-olds would be susceptible to peer pressure and that they may lack judgement about when a customer is over-served.

Lawmakers added language to the bill mandating training for young servers, along with a requirement that a supervisor who's at least 18 be present during a shift when a 17-year-old is serving alcohol.

Ellis says he expects businesses to be responsible with staffing.

“Their number one value in a business is that actual liquor license and anytime they do any violation or do anything wrong they risk losing that license," he said.

So far, Maine is the only state that allows 17-year-olds serve alcohol on site at bars and restaurants, according to an analysis from the Michigan House Fiscal agency.

A Whitmer spokesman says the governor supports following suit in Michigan, so that businesses can ramp up hiring.

"While unemployment is at record lows and job creation remains strong, there are still businesses that could use additional help," the statement said.

Sarah Lehr is a politics and civics reporter for WKAR News.
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