Just sent this e-mail to the members of the PA Senate Law and Justice committee (and my own Senator, Robert Tomlinson). I'll be at the hearings on Tuesday, and I'll report on what happens.
I'll be attending Tuesday's joint hearing conducted by the Law and Justice Committee and the House Liquor Control Committee regarding the recent Bureau of Liquor Control enforcement (BLCE) "raids" in Philadelphia. This is a matter of great interest and concern to me (and to quite a few others, as evidenced by the public outcry at the injustice of these events). I've taken the liberty of creating the following list of questions I'd like to see addressed at these hearings. I hope you would consider them.
• What purpose is served by brand registration? How does this arcane and clearly imperfect process best meet that need? If that need can be met by simpler means, why not do away with beer registration altogether?
• Why was the cost of registration recently raised from $25 per brand to $75 (especially when other states have registration fees as low as $1)? Can there at least be an exemption of registration for brewpubs that only sell beer on-premises?
• Why was the response to this complaint three simultaneous raids carried out by multiple armed BLCE agents, during lunch hour? Why not one plainclothes agent armed with a clipboard to straighten out what is clearly a bureaucratic issue?
• What is being done to insure that the BLCE's “anonymous complaint” process is not used to harass licensees, either by competitors or malcontents?
• Where is the oversight on the BLCE? The PLCB repeatedly said, in the aftermath of the raids, that it was not responsible for the actions of the BLCE; the State Police also distanced themselves. For that matter, who does the PLCB answer to, other than indirectly to the Legislature, through the Liquor Code?
• At the heart of things, is the PA Liquor Code just too byzantine and confusing for licensees – and enforcement agents! – to understand? Could the Code be substantially simplified without undercutting taxation and enforcement?
• And of course: why does the State continue to hold a retail monopoly on the sale of wine and liquor? As an American citizen in 2010, how is it possibly fair that I cannot legally travel 15 miles into New Jersey, buy a bottle of wine, and bring it home to drink? The monopoly is unfair, and there are no compelling reasons in the public good to continue it.
As I said, I will be present on Tuesday to see how the hearing proceeds, and to report on those proceedings. I hope the hearing is fruitful, and brings progress to the process of making Pennsylvania's liquor laws more fair, more transparent, and more responsive to the desires of the citizens of the Commonwealth.