Thursday, February 5, 2009

Reason #14: It Makes No Difference

The Liquor Control Board is a drag. It's a pain to have such a small number of booze outlets, dealing with the state's cumbersome, unfriendly wholesale operation is a hassle for taverns and restaurants, and do I have to remind you: the case law*? If you want a real selection of booze, a big selection, a selection that wasn't made by people in Harrisburg guessing what's best for you (which is apparently a ton of vodkas and Yellowtail), you have to leave the state ("go out of Control," as Carolyn so aptly put it).

You can't get good wine advice, the beer stores are dingy because of the case law (sorry, guys, but they are), and all we can buy at a supermarket/drug store/gas station is Diet Freakin' Pepsi. What's worst, maybe, is the thought that just across the border things are different, things are better: the citizens are treated like adults.

But all this is understandable and bearable, we're told, because the State is keeping us safe, keeping alcoholism under check, by an agency's The Almighty Liquor Code put it?
for the protection of the public welfare, health, peace and morals of the people of the Commonwealth and to prohibit forever the open saloon, and all of the provisions of this act shall be liberally construed for the accomplishment of this purpose.
Yeah, that's it. See, they're protecting our welfare, health, peace, and morals. And prohibiting forever the open saloon, whatever the hell that means. So, it's, like, worth it, right?

Whether or not the 'deal' is worth it or not is a question we'll have to postpone, because they're not protecting our welfare, health, peace, and morals, or at least not significantly better than non-Control states do. How do I know this? The PLCB told me.

Reason #14:

The "Control" Part Isn't Working Worth a Damn.

First point: one of the things the PLCB is responsible for is the control of underage drinking. In fact, one of the official responsibilities the PLCB has is to create a report "on High Risk and Underage Drinking" and deliver it to the state General Assembly every two years. This is a result of a change to The Almighty Liquor Code passed in 2006; here's what was added:
Section 217. Biennial Reports.--(a) The board's Bureau of Alcohol Education shall prepare a report on underage alcohol drinking and high risk college alcohol drinking in this Commonwealth.
(b) A report shall be prepared biennially and shall address the following:
(1) Current levels and trends of underage alcohol drinking and high risk college alcohol drinking in this Commonwealth.
(2) Current programs conducted by State agencies to prevent underage alcohol drinking and high risk college alcohol drinking.
(3) Current science that better defines and suggests proven prevention strategies for underage alcohol drinking and high risk college alcohol drinking.
(c) The first report to the General Assembly shall be presented prior to February 1, 2007. Additional reports shall be presented every two years thereafter. [details of who gets the report follow]
The PLCB managed to churn out the first report only 6 weeks late (March 14, 2007), and despite having two years to get their act together, this year's report is already nine days late. Still, they're happy to do it, because according to Board member Tom Goldsmith when the first report finally came out: “The PLCB is proud to lead the fight against underage and high-risk drinking in our commonwealth.”

You would think that with all the control measures the PLCB has put in place to hamper efforts of underage drinkers to get booze -- which also inevitably hamper the efforts of legal-aged drinkers to purchase and enjoy what is, for them, something as legal and proper as groceries -- that the "fight" would be going well, especially compared to those lax bastards across the state borders, where they don't have our morally enlightened measures in place.

You would be wrong. According to figures found in that same PLCB report (which is, by the way, absolutely stuffed with New Dry bumf), college drinking in Pennsylvania takes place at essentially the same rate as it does across the nation. A variety of questions -- have you consumed alcohol in the past year/30 days, did you binge drink, are you aware of drinking around you, do you drink and do the wild thing -- all reveal that students in Pennsylvania are doing...whatever alcohol-related thing you'd care to mention about as often as students anywhere.

Indeed, the report's summary admits it (right on page 10): "When compared to college students across the nation, Pennsylvania students are very similar. Eighty four percent (84%) of students in the nation and Pennsylvania stated they have used alcohol at least once in their life. When it comes to use of alcohol in the past thirty days, Pennsylvania students registered at seventy percent (70%) versus seventy two percent (72%) for the nation." When you consider that there has historically been a higher occurrence of student drinking in the northeastern U.S. -- again, it's right there on page 10 -- the similarity blends to almost unity.

There is one thing. Pennsylvania's younger students, in middle schools, drink at a lower rate than nationally -- bravo, L.C. Bee. But they catch up by junior and senior year.

So what is it that's so great about control?

Second point: if underage drinking isn't the first boozing indicator people look at -- and I happen to think it would be a lot less of a problem if we look the legal drinking age to 18, but that's another story -- they point to drunk driving. It's a serious and real issue, and it affects everyone quite personally, especially if you're on the road on a Saturday night.

Pennsylvania combats drunk driving with a variety of programs. RAMP (Responsible Alcohol Management Program) is the main one. It was created by the PLCB to educate licensees and their employees about alcohol management. The PLCB describes it like this: "RAMP training teaches employees how to serve alcohol responsibly, how to detect fake identification, to not sell alcohol to minors and visibly intoxicated patrons, and to reduce alcohol-related problems at licensee establishments." Good idea, similar to the TIPS program in use across the country, though cynics among us often say that these programs are more about limiting liability than they are about limiting risky drinking. And, of course, there's control. Which is...what, again? The limited number of stores? The half-assed selection? The case law? Are they trying to annoy us into drinking less?

Enough. I'm only making fun of the idea of control because it's clearly not working in the case of drunk driving, either. The latest drunk driving stats I could get are from 2006 and only cover "alcohol-related" traffic fatalities as a percentage of all traffic fatalities -- and I'll be happy to update this if someone can get me better ones -- but the figures are illuminating. Pennsylvania's percentages of "alcohol-related" traffic fatalities sit right at the national average, 37%. The states that border the Commonwealth? New York: 33%. New Jersey: 37%. Delaware: 34%. Maryland: 36%. West Virginia: 38%. Ohio: 37%. Lest you think that every state's about the same, Kentucky's rate is 28%, Wisconsin's is 49%. (I'd like to have stats that show the number of "alcohol-related" accidents and DUI arrests as a percentage of state population; if you find those, please let me know.)

The PLCB should be abolished because it is ineffective at a mission so important to its existence that it is in its name. All this hassle, the ridiculous usurpation of liquor and wine retail by the State, all the moralistic preaching, all the programs, all the enforcement, all the eight foot tall bees (with antenna), all turn out to be no better, no more effective than what they do in other states. Don't tell me about policy projections, show me the numbers. And the numbers say that control is bullshit.

Not to mention...there are plenty of open saloons in Pennsylvania. I'm very disappointed.

*No, of course, I haven't forgotten the case law. I think of it daily. It's definitely a Reason, and I'll get to it soon.


Anonymous said...

"prohibit forever the open saloon"
What does this mean? In real English? Or even in Political-Legal jargon?

Rich said...

"prohibit forever the open saloon"
What does this mean? In real English? Or even in Political-Legal jargon?

I bet that phrase has been in the code since the dang thing was written. It had a meaning, at some point, but its now lost.

Oh, and the government should not be in the business of regulating our morality. Separation of church and state, anyone?

Thanks for your comment about the case law...I've gone on the record as HATING that!

Lew, you want to get rid of the PLCB...but lets talk a little about the actual process. As citizens of this great commonwealth, how would we go about getting our state legislature to approve such a thing, let alone get it in there to begin with? Do you know any state legislators that are on board with this?

Lew Bryson said...

There are always legislators that are interested; really, there are. It's a question of getting enough of them, and getting them motivated. It's uphill: there are polls showing that over 85% of Pennsylvanians would like the case law to go away, and you see how well that's going.

But there's already a plan written up to take the State Stores private, ready-made by members of the legislation in form of a major amendment to The Almighty Liquor Code, hanging out on the Web...all it needs is enough votes to pull the trigger. We'll talk about that one of these days.

Rich said...

But there's already a plan written up to take the State Stores private, ready-made by members of the legislation in form of a major amendment to The Almighty Liquor Code, hanging out on the Web...all it needs is enough votes to pull the trigger. We'll talk about that one of these days.


OK, you can't leave me hanging with that one, Lew! Do tell, do tell. Bills go nowhere without support.

Lew Bryson said...

Ed, sorry to let you hanging. "Prohibit forever the open saloon" is real Prohibition-speak, and is probably in there at the behest of then-Governor Gifford Pinchot, an ardent Dry who couldn't stem the flood of Repeal, but fought a dogged rear-guard action. The major force in getting Prohibition passed was the Anti-Saloon League; the "saloon" represented everything that was bad about pre-Prohibition drinking -- to the Drys, at least -- graft, preying on the drunken husband, drugs, prostitution, illegal voting practices, and so on. These were all real problems...but hardly at every bar. Prohibition was as much about modernizing society and Progressive politics as it was about booze; crusaders wanted to clean up America, and the saloon was a major stumbling block.

A number of states banned "saloons" in their Repeal laws, which is why there are so many "bars", "grills", and "taverns" around, and why the famous Jimmy Armstrong's Sal**n in NYC put those two asterisks in the name: a tweak to NY law. Silly, ain't it?

So...what's it mean? Nothing. At least it hasn't caused as much fighting over the years as "forever wild" has in the creation of the Adirondack Park.

Lew Bryson said...

Sorry, Rich, I thought I'd left a comment, but Blogger screwed up.

There is no current bill pending. What happened was that there WAS a bill, and a plan for privatization was drawn up...but obviously nothing happened. The bill, and its adjustments to The Almighty Liquor Code, is still up on the Web, though, tucked away on a blind siding, as it were. But I'm going to hold off on that until I can get some legislator on the record about it. I'm making connections.

Anonymous said...

"...prohibit forever the open saloon."

Could this possibly mean a drinking establishment having an open entrance with only the classic "swinging doors" between the sins within and the prudence without?

I seem to recall that this type of entrance to a saloon was not allowed after Prohibition, but I can't point to any concrete evidence, just memory rattle.