Distilling Pennsylvania's mix of pending liquor law legislation

When it comes to helping licensed establishments comply with Pennsylvania's liquor laws, it is good to know what legislation is brewing in Harrisburg.

Focusing my practice at Scaringi Law on state liquor license cases, I keep a close eye on what might be coming next in this constantly changing area of the law - all to better serve, defend and advise the licensees I represent.

Two bills are pending in the state House that could cause big problems for licensees, while two other measures make sense and would be beneficial.

Let's first take a look at the two problematic pieces of legislation, House Bills 2364 and 1769.

House Bill 2364

While I don't have a problem with some parts of HB 2364, other sections have the potential to seriously hurt licensed establishments by forcing them to electronically scan the licenses of all patrons, regardless of age.

As written, the bill would require any licensee with two or more violations within three years for selling alcohol to minors to purchase electronic ID scanners, used for checking the validity of driver's licenses and verifying age.

I don't have a problem with the first part of the bill. I recommend ID scanners to all the licensed establishments I represent and consider them a wise investment.

But I do see a problem with the second part of the legislation: It would require these same licensees to use the scanners for every customer when he comes in - regardless of age or whether the person is a regular who has come in for years. No breaks. No exceptions.

This is a recipe for annoyed customers, irate regulars and a bar or restaurant that sees its alcohol sales suffer as a result. I've seen it happen when bars, without prior legal representation, unwittingly signed off on conditional license agreements calling for blanket age checks using ID scanners. Sure enough, their bar business suffered.

Should these same bars relax their ID scanning policies in the face of customer pressure and get caught, they face additional penalties - including the possible loss of their licenses. In fact, I am fighting such a case right now.

As written, HB 2364 is very dangerous to bars and restaurants, threatening their business and their liquor licenses.

House Bill 1769

This is another piece of legislation that I believe would place too heavy a burden on licensees. It would require all employees to become certified by the state Bureau of Liquor Code Enforcement's Responsible Alcohol Management Program (RAMP) within 30 days.

Again, I have no problem with the five-step RAMP certification program as a training tool for licensed establishments. As with ID scanners, I recommend RAMP certification to all of my clients. The program provides valuable training in how to avoid serving minors and intoxicated patrons.

But requiring every Pennsylvania establishment licensed to sell alcohol - including retailers - to have each and every employee RAMP-certified within 30 days? I'm not even sure that's possible given the constraints on the program, which is administered by private contractors.

I see the short time frame becoming a nightmare for licensees, who would be sent scrambling to comply.

The good news about pending legislation

House Bill 1521

Finally, lawmakers are looking at ramifications for state liquor stores that sell to minors.

Under HB 1521, Bureau of Liquor Code Enforcement officers would have the authority to cite state stores for violations of the liquor code. As it is, state stores face no penalties for violations.

I think this legislation is long overdue. After all, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, right?

House Bill 2069

I like to call this one the Mug Club law.

Under state law, there are only two ways for establishments to discount alcohol in Pennsylvania: a daily drink special that ends at midnight and gives patrons a special price on particular drinks; and a happy hour that offers discounted drinks within a certain period of time and ends well before closing.

What isn't legal - but has grown in popularity across the state - is discounting beer for so-called mug club members. These clubs allow patrons who buy a mug, which is kept at the bar, to come in at any time and use the mug to buy a larger portion of beer at a reduced price.

These mug clubs seem to be springing up everywhere, yet they represent a clear violation of the state's alcohol discounting regulations.

HB 2069 would simply acknowledge reality by allowing mug clubs. Under the legislation, the mug discounts would be available any day until midnight.

For me, it's just common sense: making legal what people are doing anyway.

Last call

Well, that's our quick look at Pennsylvania's latest batch of liquor legislation.

Rest assured that I'll be closely watching the enforcement of laws on the books as well as new regulations coming down the pike.

If you're an establishment owner with a question or a compliance or enforcement issue, don't hesitate to call me. It's always better to have knowledgeable representation on the front end than to try to fight an enforcement action after the fact.


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