A bill that would severely curtail how liquor licenses are distributed advanced to the full House, and local lawmakers are optimistic that it will help put a dent in “stop and go” nuisance alcohol-selling businesses.
House Bill 1547, introduced by three Democratic state representatives serving the Philadelphia area — Joanna McClinton, Jordan Harris and Donna Bullock — will allow the state Liquor Control Board to designate saturated nuisance market areas where violations would be subjected to enhanced penalties, fines and suspensions, and allow the board to remove licenses from those areas.
Philadelphia residents have suffered greatly from such establishments, the representatives said.
“In the 191st District in places like 60th Street, Baltimore Avenue, Woodlawn Avenue and too many other places where you can buy beer,” McClinton said.
“Sadly, it’s not the neighbors who get off from work and go and buy beer, it’s the ones who are there hanging out all day and we are concerned about someone intoxicated outside coming in,” she said.
Currently, there’s a loophole in the law that enables a current licensee to transfer or sell its license, a practice that’s followed up by the state liquor control board considering just the reputation of the new owner, McClinton said.
If passed and adopted as law, the new legislation would force the board to consider all factors including location, proximity to churches, schools and the community.
Gov. Tom Wolf would be “happy to work with the representatives and local law enforcement” to address the issue of nuisance establishments, Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said in a statement.
The new proposal holds the transfer of non-renewed licenses to the same standard as double transfers, which forces the board to reconsider the license’s proximity to organizations like schools, playgrounds and churches, as well as the effect of the license on the welfare, health, peace and morals of the surrounding community.
Currently, the state liquor control board doesn’t provide specific guidelines on how to report establishments that have been known for illegal activities like selling alcohol to minors.
“While the majority of business owners who sell alcohol are responsible business owners, there are those who have been able to operate using business practices that are not in the best interests of the communities that they provide service to,” Harris said.
The legislation was designed to provide greater state and municipal oversight of those businesses who have skirted the rule of law and created nuisances in local communities that have, in many cases, altered the quality of life for residents, Harris said.
The bill, which so far has received bipartisan support in the House, also extends the public notice period for the transfer of non-renewed licenses from 30 to 45 days which gives the members of the surrounding community the chance to have a say as the board considers continuing to license a location that had previously been subjected to complaints and violations.
“A key part of this bill is allowing for more coordination between the state and local communities to regulate these nuisance businesses,” Bullock said.
“Under this bill, the Liquor Control Board would be given the authority to look at the number of citations, police incidents, objection to renewals and conditional license agreements of eatery and restaurant licensees to determine if a zip code area should be deemed a saturated nuisance market location,” she said.
In addition, in an area designated as saturated, residents and community leaders would have additional input on licenses transferred in the zip code, Bullock said.
“I was fortunate that when I worked with the community on this issue we were able to get a stop and go shutdown,” said State Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Philadelphia. “It took years, but we kept records, we met with the owner and worked for two years but we kept documented records of when the establishment was running afoul of the law,” said Kinsey, who noted that he’s particularly interested in the enforcement part of the measure.
Also, the proposal helps to underscore that no resident should be held hostage by nuisance businesses, decreased quality of life and the increased crime associated with them, McClinton said.
“This legislation would give the Liquor Control Board and the State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement some vitally needed tools they could use to make neighborhoods safer and help reduce crime,” she said.
The measure also has enjoyed the strong support of two other local lawmakers, Democrats Rosita Youngblood and Maria Donatucci, who as the Democratic secretary on the House Liquor Control Committee, held several public meetings this year on nuisance bars.
“This was an effort on behalf of the entire Philadelphia delegation, and without the hearings held earlier this year, we would have never gotten this far,” Donatucci said.
Through cooperation and a united front, the delegation can accomplish great things for Philadelphia, she said.
The measure represents a great first step to finally address the issue of “stop and go’s” in Philadelphia, said Youngblood, the Democratic Caucus secretary.
“Although there are still some issues that need to be worked out with the bill, we are committed to working with our colleagues throughout the commonwealth to address their concerns,” she said.