Monday, September 19, 2016

Why the PLCB should follow the law, not "interpret" it

If the PLCB were a private citizen, it would most likely be in jail. It does things that the people — through their representatives in the legislature — never approved. It willingly and repeatedly violates the law, and consistently goes against one of the very foundations of English and American law: "Everything which is not forbidden is allowed." Also stated as "no crime without law," this is an essential freedom of the ordinary citizen. The PLCB, on the other hand, seems to work on the opposite idea, that "all that is not expressly permitted is forbidden." Sorta like North Korea.

Are they making broad interpretations of the laws for the benefit of the citizens? Good intentions are not an excuse for breaking the law. Never have been. The laws are for everybody, they don't say "except for when the PLCB wants to save us from ourselves" anywhere.  Let's take a look at some of the legal and common sense violations they are a party to.

Just this past week Giovanni's Pizza & Pasta, in Dormont, PA was trying to comply with all the written legal requirements so that they could deliver wine. But the PLCB isn't interested in just the legal requirements; their requirements have to be met as well. What are those requirements? They won't say. "That's a matter that is under review for consideration by our attorneys and our board. There's nothing in Act 39 that says it's illegal, but Act 39 did impose certain conditions that need to be met. We don't have a determination on that matter yet." - Elizabeth Brassell, director of communications for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (emphasis added).

I'm sure we all remember the magic 12 pack case where they "interpreted" that a "case or original container" could mean a 12-pack, even though a case had been a case (and an "original container" had been ONE original container, not a pack of  12 of them) for as long as anyone could remember. How many times in the past 80 years had they refused to consider that?  More than we will ever know.

Why was the new interpretation suddenly different? No one knows. Of course there are the infamous Wine Kiosks that were never checked to see if they complied with federal law, The PLCB just didn't bother and really didn't seem to care in that case. Even after they were called out on it they still didn't check.

While moot now, state law did say that only 25% of State Stores could be open on Sunday. Since they don't care what the law says, the PLCB was about 18 stores over the limit when Act 39 took place, allowing more stores to open. They obviously didn't care about a legal limit that was written to apply specifically to them!

How about the ever-changing beer at gas stations gymnastics? "You can't sell beer at the same location where you sell gas, period, that's the law! Well, unless the property is actually next door. Oh, and they can't have an interior connection...unless we say it's OK, in which case, that's fine, for that one licensee, not for anyone else."

That's contrary to what the Liquor Code explicitly says: "No license shall be transferred to any place or property upon which is located as a business the sale of liquid fuels and oil." But according to the PLCB, if you have a business that sells gas and you build another store next to it, and then attach them together (and they are owned by the same company), it isn't a continuation of the original gas selling business. If not, then why do they have an interior connection? Common sense was never a PLCB strong point.

One of my favorites in the "Do as I say not as I do" category is that a licensee of one class can't provide anything of value to another class of licensee. So as a distributor you couldn't help a restaurant with how to display their beer selection for example. However, the PLCB has outside representatives that come in all the time to set up advertising displays in their stores, and hires outside companies to do the sets* in the stores too. But then there are no requirements for State Stores either. We shouldn't expect them to know how to stock shelves and sell things - should we?

Maybe if the PLCB just regulated and didn't run a half-assed retail booze monopoly, they would be able to do at least one thing well. I doubt it, but I'd like to find out.


* A 'set' is where every bottle goes and in what order they should be on the shelves. These are the people that decided to not have the 1.5L sizes next to the standard 750ML sizes of the same wine but to group all the 1.5L bottles together.  The same ones that destroyed the standard "top shelf" setup that liquor had been using for almost 100 years.  Of course, no place except PA state stores do this.


Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the plcb is grasping at straws in a last ditch effort to save the stores, but since the law is changed,they can keep changing it and sooner rather than later, the stores will be extinct.

Anonymous said...

To the other anonymous: baloney... if anything, it's worse that the supermarkets are selling wine (and note the lack of spirits) at the same ridiculous prices as sixpacks of beer are sold everywhere in PA.