Senate Eyes Booze Cyber Sales

A Senate panel is taking a hard look at the sales of alcohol to underage drinkers over the Internet and ways to stop it.

A growing number of minors are buying alcohol on the Internet, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday. The federal government must crack down on interstate shipments that violate state laws, he said.

Most of the World Wide Web sites that sell alcohol require no proof that the buyer is over 21, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan.

The beer and wine simply show up a few weeks later, all usually charged to a borrowed credit card.

"There is something very wrong with the level of control that is being exercised over these sales," said Hatch, the panel's chairman.

According to Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Md., as the Internet has grown, so has its use for the sale of alcohol. He said the market in illegal sales of alcohol on the Internet is $1 billion a year.

Frequent sales across state lines make it tough for states to enforce their laws.

To alleviate that problem, Hatch has introduced a bill that would toughen enforcement of laws prohibiting the importation or transportation of alcohol to minors.

He said it is a federal issue that should be handled in federal court. The legislation would grant state attorneys general the power to file actions in federal court.

Supporting Hatch's position was Wayne Klein, assistant attorney general of Utah, who said federal help is needed because modern technology has made the fight tougher.

"Up to 10 percent of alcohol being acquired by minors comes via delivery services," said Klein.

But John De Luca, president and chief executive officer of the Wine Institute, said the bill would hurt small wineries that depend on the Internet as their only means of selling their product.

Rep. George Radanovich, R-Calif., said the government's interference with direct orders on the Internet could hurt interstate commerce and impede free trade.

"But direct shipment of alcohol is impacting our most vulnerable constituents, our children, who are surfing the Internet and getting direct access to alcohol," said Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-Calif.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she was looking for a solution to the teen-age drinking problem that wouldn't devastate the wine industry.

"We want to be fair to the wine industry, but we also want to be fair to America's children," said Hatch.