Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Call for suspension of confiscation

I just sent versions of the following to my state senator, representative, and Gov. Rendell:

RE: "Please consider suspending confiscations of "unregistered beer."

I'm sure you're aware of the recent actions of the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement in Philadelphia. BLCE agents raided three bars last Thursday -- on the basis of an anonymous tip -- to look for beers that were not registered in Pennsylvania. Some 60 gallons of beer, with an estimated value of over $7000, was seized. Monday night, the BLCE raided a major beer wholesaler in Philadelphia and seized beer as well. This is not a case of tax evasion: all taxes were paid on the beer. They were just not registered; an oversight.

These raids have caused consternation among the retailers potentially and actually affected by the actions; the responsibility for registration is the manufacturer's, not the retailer's.

The raids were unnecessary: send a PLCB bureaucrat to the wholesaler who supplies the beer, and give them the power to accept a fee and register any unregistered brands on the spot. I would suspect you'd see 100% compliance.

The raids were a public relations disaster; just have a look at the coverage in the Philadelphia papers.

The raids were of suspicious motivation: why were these three widely-separated bars (all owned by one couple) singled out; what "civilian" would even know that a violation was taking place; why does the BLCE insist on keeping the identity of the complainant secret?

The raids were also, sad to say, poorly implemented: the PLCB's list of registered brands is poorly maintained, and at least one beer, "Duvel", is being confiscated because of a clerical error. Duvel is registered and has been registered for years.

There are already calls for hearings to investigate the matter from Reps. Robert Donatucci and John Taylor. I would strongly urge you to call for an immediate suspension of further confiscations (taking place under Section 4-444, para C of the state Liquor Code) until such hearings can take place. An immediate suspension would allow a cooling off period, and allow the hearings to take place at a measured pace.

Thank you for your kind attention to this matter.

Lewis Bryson


Grant Ammons said...

Your Blog is great. It's really a one-stop hub for all anti-plcb information. Keep up the good work!

The more the people can get organized against the PLCB, the better we all are. Perhaps a wiki is in order?

Brendan said...

my letter to the PLCB:

Dear Mr. Stapleton, Mr. goldsmith, and Mr. Marcus:

As a taxpaying citizen of Pennsylvania, i demand that you rein in the PLCB and stop the destructive and embarrassing raids you are conducting in Philadelphia. As has become clear, the beverages confiscated for not being properly registered actually ARE registered, but the PLCB recorded the names improperly: two examples are Duvel and Monk's Sour Ale. i am sure there are MANY more.

It's been clear for some time that the PLCB is an outdated anachronism, and the latest raids further prove the case: obviously, the PLCB is unaware of the practice of cellaring certain beers in the same manner as wine, nor is the PLCB aware of what's on its list of registered and unregistered beers. The economy in the state is already bad enough without the PLCB sending armed state police into establishments run by law-abiding business owners. furthermore, in a time of economic crisis for the state, the PLCB is wasting taxpayers money and scant resources. Philadelphia's murder rate, for example, is out of control: why are you wasting valuable man hours chasing down beer labels? I remind you that Prohibition ended 76 years ago.

It is not lost on me, or on anyone else paying attention to this gross abuse of authority, that none of you have any experience selling, marketing, or making wine, liquor, or beer. It is bad enough that your ignorance of the product you're charged with selling and controlling drives otherwise law-abiding Pennsylvanians to Delaware and New Jersey to find wines unavailable in our state or to buy a six-pack at a reasonable price (at least one liquor store in NJ has a photo of an identified PLCB member buying his beverages at their store, with a humorous caption attached). But going after law-abiding businessmen on some kind of witch hunt better suited for the Roaring Twenties than the 21st century is wrong on all counts.

Stop the raids, suspend confiscations of so-called "unregistered beer", and rewrite the liquor code. You are wasting taxpayer dollars, state police time, needlessly punishing small business owners in a time of economic collapse, and making the PLCB even more of a laughingstock.

brendan skwire

Brendan said...

bob donatucci is on the phone with me right now.
he says the taverns are going to testify, as well as the LCE.

Lew Bryson said...

Nice work on the phone call, Brendan!

Sara said...

Hey Lew, for those who might not have the time to write such a savvy and informative letter, could we perhaps have a form letter available for those to copy-paste-send away to legislative office? Just a thought. I certainly don't mind writing my own, but as an advocacy organizer, I know how lazy people can be - might as well make it easy and get tons of letters in so the offices can sort by topic.

Lew Bryson said...

I was under the impression that cut-and-paste form letters ranked pretty low on impact. Not true?

Sara said...

Lew - yes, and no. While they're never as ideal as a 100% personalized letter, for sure, putting out a form letter with the option to personalize it can still increase the volume/likelihood that someone will participate. Faxes are great, too. Not necessary, but just a thought!

Lew Bryson said...

Always happy for advice from someone who actually knows what they're doing, Sara! I'll see if I can squeeze out the time to do that.

Lutton said...

The Honorable John Taylor
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
4725-27 Richmond Street
Philadelphia, PA 19137

March 10, 2010

Dear Mr. Taylor:

I wish to express my disappointment with the BLCE raids last week on the three locations run by Leigh Maida and Brendan Hartranft, including Memphis Taproom in Kensington.

While the raids themselves were a disappointment, I hope that these incidents might open the door for a further review of the beer registration system in the Commonwealth. The State Police and the BLCE seemed to be unable to accurately interpret their own lists and data about which beers were and were not registered. I would strongly urge you to call for an immediate suspension of further confiscations (taking place under Section 4-444, para C of the state Liquor Code) until such a review can take place. An immediate suspension would allow a cooling off period, and allow the hearings to take place at a measured pace.

Furthermore, there are rampant rumors that some other proprietor or local brewery was the complainant that led to these raids. I certainly hope that state agencies are not being used as competitive tools by some businesses against others. I find it difficult to believe that these unregistered beers were among the most critical items that the BLCE and State Police have on their docket.

As I'm sure you know, there is currently discussion at the legislative level about how and where beer can be distributed. Perhaps additional discussion of the regulatory issues related to these raids would be appropriate at this time, as well. It seems to me that while industrial brewers, national retail chains and suburban mega-grocers have the financial means and legal teams to navigate that dysfunctional regulatory system, smaller organizations suffer for it.

Leigh and Brendan have worked tirelessly to bring vibrant new businesses to three distinct areas of the city. I don't believe they ever intentionally skirted the rules and regulations of the PLCB. The thought that a local business might use Commonwealth agencies to stifle someone’s entrepreneurial spirit is disheartening. And I hope that these occurrences can at least open the doors to a review and revamping of the system.

As a business owner in this district myself, I appreciate the amount of time, effort and sacrifice one expends to succeed. I do not appreciate the use of our taxes to, in effect, harass other hard working small business operators.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Anonymous said...

"why does the BLCE insist on keeping the identity of the complainant secret?"

Is it certain that someone actually knows the identity? At least via the BLCE site, complaints can be made anonymously. And why would someone identify themselves if it was a competitor?

Lew Bryson said...

Good point. I was guessing from the comments of the BLCE Sergeant in the Daily News story.
"It doesn't matter where the complaint is coming from," he said. "If there is merit to the complaint, we have to follow through with it. . . . We received a complaint regarding the licensee bringing in unregistered beers and we confirmed with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board that certain brands were not registered."

He didn't say it was anonymous, so I assumed it wasn't. You may be right...which is also disturbing. The law is not the Internet. Complaints like this should not be taken seriously if made anonymously.