HARRISBURG, Pa. – Employees at Pennsylvania’s liquor stores soon could have even more incentive to check IDs: The buyer might be part of an undercover state police operation.
Legislation that would expressly authorize the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement to investigate the state’s liquor stores for violations is making its way through the state House.
If it becomes law, it could end a double standard in which state police investigate whether privately owned bars and restaurants - but not the state’s liquor stores - are selling alcohol to minors.
The rationale for that? Police have said that state store employees are well trained at checking IDs and that the stores are not considered licensed establishments, exempting them from the Age Compliance Check Program.
But state Rep. John Taylor (R-Phila.), the Republican chairman of the House Liquor Control Committee, said the notion that the state stores could have a perfect compliance rate “was always a bone of contention.” Private establishments could say that, too, but police can investigate them to see if it’s true, he said.
“We don’t have any reason to believe that it’s a problem [at the state liquor stores], but now we’ll know just like every other establishment,” Taylor said after the legislation cleared his committee unanimously on Tuesday.
The House Liquor Control Committee tweaked the bill on Monday, removing language that would have allowed state police to issue citations to state stores for violations. One state agency fining another would have “no effect,” Taylor said.
In the case of a violation, police would be required to notify the PLCB and the chairpersons of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, as well as the chairmen of the House Liquor Control Committee. The PLCB would then have 30 days to outline to the committees how it would rectify the issue.
That gives lawmakers oversight in the process, while affording “leeway” to the board to decide whether termination or additional training is appropriate, said Marcia Lampman, executive director of the House Liquor Control Committee.
State police spokesman Trooper Adam Reed said the legislation is being analyzed after the amendment. It has been referred to the House Rules Committee.
Discussion about the lack of compliance checks originated during talks about liquor privatization in 2011.
Wendell Young IV, president of the union representing the state liquor store employees, the United Food and Commercial Workers 1776, said Tuesday that he’s OK with the legislation but said it would create an unfunded mandate.
Young also questioned the need for the legislation. He and Stacy Kriedeman, a spokeswoman with the PLCB, both said there is no law prohibiting state police from conducting compliance checks in Pennsylvania’s wine and spirit shops.
Beyond that, employees at state liquor stores take their responsibility seriously, knowing that they could lose their jobs if they sell to minors, Young said. He said there are few stories about any violations originating from the state liquor stores.
“You don’t hear about that in Pennsylvania because it just isn’t happening,” Young said.
If it did, the punishment would be severe, Kriedeman said.
“If we find that an employee knowingly sold alcohol to someone underage, it would result in immediate termination,” she said. “We can’t stress that enough.”
Andrew Staub can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.
The Pennsylvania Independent is a public interest journalism project dedicated to promoting open, transparent, and accountable state government by reporting on the activities of agencies, bureaucracies, and politicians in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is funded by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a libertarian nonprofit organization.