Tuesday, September 17, 2013

DA John Morganelli: Why Privatized Liquor Is Bad For Public Safety

Yesterday, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, the Democratic nominee for attorney general in 2008 and a potential candidate for Pennsylvania Lt. Governor in 2014, held a Press Conference in the Capitol Rotunda to explain why Governor Corbett's plan to privatize liquor sales in Pennsylvania is bad for public safety. He was joined by Stephen Erni, Executive Director, Pennsylvania DUI Association, and Felicity DeBacco Erni, also of Pa. DUI Assn. Morganelli is a Past President of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. Below are his remarks verbatim.

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.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

another political bs letter from a loser pol - ho hum

Anonymous said...

Clearly private people can't be trusted to sell liquor, but the government can. Really?

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

What a predictable political whore. He wants mommy government to wipe our asses for us? No. He'd suck every dick in the union in exchange for their votes. Overpaid cashiers whose organization never investigates itself is not wise law enforcement. John ought to know this and probably does. But he really needs those votes.

Anonymous said...

Morganelli has a point.

After all, there are no children left in the other 48 states that don't control liquor sales.

Thank God for John Morganelli for not letting all our kids die as well!

Kevin Cerino said...

Why didn't Mr. Morganelli site any statistics showing that PA has a lower rate of DUI deaths than states which have privatized liquor sales? Because the numbers would show that PA's state liquor monopoly doesn't keep people any safer.

Funny how Morganelli has been silent on this important issue for the past three years. Now that he is running LG, he needs to pander to the union bosses.

Anonymous said...

What a load of crap. I know if I owned a liquor store I'd sell to anyone who came in! It's not like my family depends on my income to pay the bills, so why wouldn't I make a quick $0.33 by selling a fifth to a 15-yr old? So I stand the risk of being shutdown and losing everything. So what?
The case he starts his letter with happened under our current laws, and yes things will probably happen like that again if there is privatization. And to that constant drone of an argument about how all these good jobs will be lost, if any of these cashiers are truly knowledgeable about wine and spirits I will hire them immediately to work at my store. Problem is, I've never met one like that is. White Burgundy? Red Zinfandel? There is no such thing.

Anonymous said...

It is bad because John is running for a statewide office in the D party. Very disappointing John. Very disappointing.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Clearly private people can't be trusted to sell liquor, but the government can. Really?"

I will say that, to me, this is one of the things that makes Pe. different, and in my opinion, better than other states. I also think that, since alcoholo is the most pernicious of all drugs, there is a legitimate state interest in controlling how it is sold. I think Corbett has this wrong.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Kevin, I did a blog on this topic a few months ago. I believe the data is confusing. Pa. apparently has the lowest death rate for alcohol consumption. But its DUI and underage drinking rates are around the national average. This is an issue on which I would generally agree with the LV Labor Council's Gregg Potter, and I agree with Morganelli.

You commented on my previous blog on this topic and made many good arguments. You cited research showing that Pa. has more more alcohol-related auto fatalities per miles driven than NJ.

http://lehighvalleyramblings.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-argument-against-pa-liquor.html

Anonymous said...

Mr. Morganelli seems to offering an opinion to keep teenagers from getting alcohol.Alcohol has always been available to persons who want to obtain it.If State Stores can keep alcohol from teenagers, wonderful. No one wants teenagers from drinking and driving but to say Government sales of alcohol prevent this from occurring is living in an alternative universe.Mr Morganelli is a intelligent man and is telling us our State Government eliminates sales of alcohol to teenagers when He knows it can't.Is He pandering to a few voters or attempting to get contributions from the union representing State Store employees.

Bernie O'Hare said...

You could say that. I happen to agree with John on this point, and nobody has ever accused me of pandering to the LV Labor Council or to public sector unions.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bernie O'Hare said...

If you want to make this personal attack, identify yourself.

Anonymous said...

The biggest problem I have with the state stores are the clerks. They are the slowest lot you could ever find. These guys are like the walking dead. You would think a cash register was the console of a fighter jet, the way they labor over the simplest transaction.

heaven forbid if there is a line, the guys in the back won't get off their asses to help.

They are sinking themselves, as their customer service sucks.

Bill Coker said...

Having just moved to South Carolina in June and finding beer and wine available in groceries, gas stations, etc. with liquor available at private ABC stores, we notice no particular increase in DUI notices or reports of alcohol related accidents. Although I don't know the accurate stats, it seems less. Frankly other than higher prices and being a pain, PA seems no different and this is just another PA government grab for money (sort of like a 58% cut of casino revenue). Still our property taxes are 1/4 to 1/3 of PA's and we have no nuisance taxes.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't he have been shorter and more to the point if he just said, "I am running as a Democrat, I need union support, Privatizing liquor would eliminate union workers therefor, keep liquor stores"?

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
The choices at the liquor store are horrible. Especially if you enjoy decent wine.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'll take your word for it as I stopped drinking in '85.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget the 500 million dollars of revenue it generates back to the PA taxpayer. PA has done a fine job regulating the sale of liquor to minors and provides a good job to PA residents. Unlike South Carolina gas stations. Also if you are looking for a great wine selection check out the store on route 248.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,

It's pretty bad, and if you want to order a bottle of wine from a winery that ships, they wont ship to PA because of our liquor laws.

Not to mention the prices are out of whack, AND more importantly we have an absolute monopoly on the liquor industry and our stores only turn like a 2 percent profit. It's god awful.

Anonymous said...

Quitting drinking when you couldn't handle alcohol responsibly is admirable. Being a zealot who wants responsible adults penalized because of your demons is selfish and typical of who we are today. The state store system is dangerous and likely leads to more problems with underage and irresponsible drinking. The state store system is never investigated, as any investigation would be very embarrassing in today's political environment. Private owners stand to lose their livelihoods and are investigated constantly. Morganelli is attempting to garner union votes by pulling on heartstrings for a system that likely kills more people than a private system will. This is a union jobs issue, replete with an unsustainable retirement program and paid for by healthy donations to John. He should be more honest. But he's not. The current system puts union jobs before public safety. Period.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,

The enforcement would remain the same if the stores are privatized. Are we to presume that state employees are more scrupulous than workers in the private sector? Doubt that.
The larger point, already made on this blog, is that Morganelli's motives are transparent and self serving. That makes his argument mute for clearly he is more concerned with the politics of the issue than the truth.That said, if elected he would fit in very well in Harrisburg.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

PALCB (enforcement) doesn't investigate itself (stores). The wolf guards the chicken coop. Privatization would change this. It's time to put health and safety ahead of politics and union votes.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Scott, That is pretty much exactly what I presume. I presume that state store employees, not driven by a profit motive, are far less likely to sell to underage drinkers. I also like the idea of the limited hours.

I am sorry to the reader who states that the wine selection is not good, or another who says that many clerks are surly. I really don't visit the shops. I get the criticism that as an alkie who no longer drinks, I should not impose my drinking habits on the vast majority who can drink socially. But even in my drinking days, i always liked the fact that you couldn't pick up a 6-pack at the local convenience store, or that the state store would be closed early.

Anonymous said...

The store on 248 has a better wine selection than most - and it's still horrible. Visit a Jersey store and be amazed at how shitty consumers are treated in PA. And you won't be forced to pay a tax to cover repairs from a flood that occurred in 1889.

Anonymous said...

Earth to Scott: there IS NO enforcement, currently. This will change for the better under privatization.

Anonymous said...

Morganelli is still just another politician. That case is closed.

I have friends who carpool to Delaware for liquor buys. Apparently the price and selection make the trip worthwhile.
Didn't we legalize gambling in PA for similar reasons, to stem the loss of revenue?


Scott Armstrong