Tuesday, September 17, 2013
DA John Morganelli: Why Privatized Liquor Is Bad For Public Safety
In the early morning hours of April 29, 2001, a 19 year old Christopher Mowad, with his blood alcohol level at twice the legal limit for an adult – lost control of his SUV at 83 miles per hour. It rolled over killing him and two 18 year old passengers. Earlier that evening, a 43 year old adult, Judith Clare McCloskey, allowed dozens and dozens of teenagers to consume alcoholic beverages in her basement at a party hosted by her two teenage daughters. Although she did not buy the alcohol for the teens, she did have knowledge that they were consuming alcohol in her basement and provided a safe haven for them to do so. Shortly after the investigation by police in that case, I directed that charges of Involuntary Manslaughter – 3 counts be lodged against Mrs. McCloskey in order to hold her criminally responsible for the deaths of the teenagers as a facilitator of underage teenage drinking. In the case that was deemed a “landmark” case by The Philadelphia Inquirer in its article of September 30, 2002, a jury of eleven women and one man found Mrs. McCloskey guilty of 3 counts of Manslaughter. She was subsequently sentenced to prison by a Northampton County judge. The case was the first of its kind in the nation to hold an adult criminally responsible for the deaths of teenagers who had consumed alcoholic beverages while under-aged with the help of an adult facilitator. The case was appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and was upheld and now is precedent in Pennsylvania.
Since that time, unfortunately, I have seen the devastating effects when you mix alcohol, teenagers and motor vehicles. Numerous organizations throughout Pennsylvania including but not limited to the Pennsylvania DUI Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Students Against Drunk Driving, Alert Partnership and others have worked in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to work in communities to combat underage drinking in order to protect our teens.
Since that time, I have been vigilant in supporting public policy that punishes adult facilitators of underage drinking and restricts the ability of teenagers to obtain and possess alcohol. I come here today to speak out against Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed privatized liquor sales plan which, in my opinion, puts private business interests and their profits above the safety of our young people in Pennsylvania. At a time when we continue to struggle with a weak economy, it is mind boggling that one of Governor Corbett’s top priorities is to allow alcohol, including hard liquor to be more accessible and available to our young people which will clearly put them in harms way. His proposal is bad public policy and, quite frankly, risky public policy. His only rationale for this move as indicated by his spokesman is to give people “choice and convenience” and “flexibility” with respect to the purchase of alcohol. Governor Corbett, as a former Attorney General of this Commonwealth is at odds with many people in the law enforcement community, including the Pennsylvania FOP which opposed the plan in the last legislative session. The Pennsylvania Fraternal Police have opposed privatization efforts that included transfer of enforcement to local police who are not trained for said enforcement nor have resources to do so. Many people in law enforcement oppose an expansion of the availability of hard liquor and other alcohol which will ultimately allow easier access to under-aged drinkers. As was noted in their March 20, 2013 letter, the Pennsylvania FOP also recognizes that expanded access to alcohol throughout the Commonwealth threatens the safety of law enforcement officers and citizens. The U.S. Center for Disease Control has linked privatization of alcohol sales to an increase in per capita alcohol consumption. The U.S. Department of Justice has documented the clear connection between alcohol consumption rates and crime rates. In the State of Washington, in the months following privatization of liquor sales, the Association of Washington Cities reported a 63% increase in liquor thefts and a 30% increase in alcohol-related crimes near grocery stores and similar private vendors. The Center for Disease Control recommended against any further privatization of alcohol sales.
The Governor’s plan is not even revenue friendly in that it brings in revenue on a one time only basis and ignores the fact that liquor stores provide more than Five Hundred Million Dollar a year in taxes and profits to the state. Governor Corbett’s plan means an increase in drinking by our teenagers, more social problems linked to alcohol abuse including but not limited to crime, domestic violence and child abuse. Groups such as Students Against Drunk Driving, the Pennsylvania DUI Association, the NAACP and other organizations concerned with excessive and underage alcohol consumption all have opposed privatization in the past and for good reason.
In addition, Governor Corbett is not being transparent and honest with respect to the law enforcement impact. The Corbett Administration has assured that this transition to the private sector will be made safe by increases in law enforcement as well as alcohol treatment and prevention methods. Unfortunately, this sounds like another unfunded mandate that will not materialize.
In January of this year, more than 100 Tennessee sheriffs and police chiefs including Knoxville’s Chief David Rausch declared opposition to legislation that would allow the sale of wine in grocery stores. Rausch and several other law enforcement officers, part of a Tennessee law enforcement for strong alcohol laws coalition, declared at a legislative news conference that they see wine sales in groceries and supermarkets as weakening control over sales and causing an expansion of underage drinking. Rausch noted that at the present time sting operations with the State Alcoholic Commission and liquor agents currently run operations and rarely find state owned liquor stores doing anything wrong in the nature of selling to underage youths. He noted that convenient stores which now can only sell beer are much more likely to have clerks caught in sting operations. He noted that grocery stores often have under-aged clerks willing to “wink and nod” for sales to under-aged friends. Law enforcement officers noted that wine and other alcohol have higher alcohol content than beer and make it much more attractive to underage drinkers and for binge drinking.
Also, with privatization will come more advertising which will promote more drinking and increase under-aged drinking. In Eugene, Oregon, this year, the Eugene Prevention Coalition noted how high risk alcohol use was twice the national average largely due to stores advertising and promoting drinking and drinking games such as beer pong in order to tie them to alcohol sales.
Governor Corbett’s plan is a plan to fix something that is not broken. In the past years, the legislature has rejected several bills to privatize. These proposals threaten public safety and put more youth at risk.
As someone who has for the last 20 years attempted to do all that is possible to decrease the availability of alcohol to our teenagers, I am highly concerned that Governor Corbett’s plan, if adopted will do just the opposite. It will be much easier for teenagers to obtain all kinds of hard liquor due to lax enforcement and profit driven motives to sell more alcohol. Today, I ask our legislators to defeat Governor Corbett’s proposal which will put more of our young people at risk. The Governor’s business friends are doing just fine.