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New state law could clog checkouts

If you’re trying to unclog a hairball from the bathroom sink with the help of a drain cleaner, expect to show some ID.

A new law that went into effect Jan. 1 addresses the sale and possession of caustic and noxious substances, which include items such as drain cleaners and pool chemicals.

The legislation was initiated after two attacks on Chicago women who were badly scarred after having acid poured on them, according to the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

Under the new law, when customers buy these products they must provide a valid driver’s license or other government-issued identification showing their name, date of birth and a photograph. They then must sign a log documenting their name and address, the date and time of the transaction, the brand name, product name, and net weight of the item.

There are some exemptions, such as batteries. Provided the product isn’t used to injure another person, the law also does not apply to people engaged in commercial manufacturing or use of the substances, as well as medical research and studies.

The Midwest Hardware Association has a sample registry, warning that the Illinois State Police maintains the authority to request the registry at any time to pursue police matters. It also has signs available to print, directing questions to the appropriate state representative or senator.

Larry Bohn, owner of Bohn’s Ace Hardware in Woodstock, said that his store sells about 30 products that fall under the new law.

“Most of them have to do with drain cleaners, but also pool salts and muriatic acid, which is a fairly common item used for pools and etching cement before you paint it,” Bohn said.

The items make up a large percentage of sales in the cleaning and plumbing departments, he said.

Bohn said that the items have been flagged in the registers so when one of them is purchased, the cashier knows to check the buyer’s ID and write down their information.

But he’s worried about losing customers to other stores that aren’t so diligent in following the new law.

“We’re concerned that it’s going to hold the customer up and make them go someplace else to shop where they might not do that,” he said.

Businesses in violation face a fine up to $150 for the first offense, $500 for the second, or up to $1,500 for the third and subsequent violations within a 12-month period.

State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, co-sponsored the bill.

“What we had heard was that people were using these substances for very bad purposes, for evil,” he said. “We thought that this law was needed to help protect the public from those who wish to do them harm.”

He said he didn’t want to minimize that the new law creates more work for retailers.

“If they’re making a profit from selling them, they also have to help us protect the citizens,” Franks said. “I don’t like it anymore than they do.”

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