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Massachusetts Voters: YES on Question 1

Monday, November 6, 2006, 05:02 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

A political TV ad is running here in Massachusetts in which Somerville Police Chief Robert Bradley states his opposition to ballot question 1, the proposed law that would allow grocery stores to apply for a wine-only liquor license. I was interested in this ad because it shows someone in a position of authority making claims in direct opposition to those made by the people sponsoring the ballot question. Someone here is lying, I thought, and Chief Bradley’s ad motivated me to research the question and find out more.

It turns out that proponents of the proposed law have filed an ethics complaint against Bradley, but just as troubling as the possible ethical lapse is the number of false statements and implications my research has identified in Bradley’s ad.

  • In the ad, Bradley referes to him self as “police chief.” But according to the City of Somerville’s own web site, he is acting chief. Click on the image at right to see a screen shot from just this morning.
  • Bradley claims that, “What
    really about is doubling the amount of liquor licenses we have in the state.” But that statement creates the false impression that the liquor licenses created by this proposed law would be the same kinds of licenses as those already available. In fact, the additional licenses are of a separate class, allowing for sale of wine only.
  • Regarding the Bradley says, “It’s about convenience stores. It’s about gas station mini-marts being able to sell alcohol.” But convenience stores and gas station mini-markets are already eligible to apply for liquor licenses, and not only for wine.
  • Bradley also claims a “slippery slope” risk, warning that once wine sales are allowed in grocery stores, beer and liquor won’t be far behind. But he doesn’t tell you that another law would be necessary for that to happen.

OK, so “Chief” Bradley of Somerville is a pathological liar. But he isn’t the only question 1 opponent to play fast and loose with the facts.

  • The statement submitted by an anti-question 1 group to the Secretary of the Commonwealth states, “A ‘yes’ vote on Question 1 would radically alter current law and would result in over 2800 more licenses to sell alcohol in Massachusetts”. But that implies that passage of this question will require issuance of additional licenses even by cities and towns that can’t properly police their licensees. In fact, the proposed law would only allow municipalities to issue licenses at their own discretion. While they state that, “Your community will lose local control—new liquor licenses will be forced on all municipalities, including dry towns,” the fact is that nothing in the law requires dry towns or any other locality to issue any liquor licenses at all, wine-only or otherwise.
  • The web site of the above group carries the disingenuous headline, “Vote no on convenience store alcohol.” They bemoan that the law will give liquor licenses to “large, foreign-owned … chains lining their pockets with profits.” What they don’t mention is that current liquor license are often given to large, non-local chains that are profiting from the ability to sell alcohol. You probably patronize many of these establishments, such as Uno’s Chicago Grill (a corporate chain with more than 200 restaurants in 32 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates), Chili’s (a Texas-based mega-chain with more than 1000 restaurants in the U.S. and over 20 other countries), Applebees (with restaurants in every U.S. state and Canadian province), and the international Hard Rock Cafe chain. These full-service liquor licensees aren’t required to be small, local, or independent of any chain or large corporation, so there is no logical reason to place such restrictions on wine-only licensees.
  • The “Vote No” group also asserts that liquor licenses (they never refer to them as “wine licenses”) would be issued to “convenience stores, grocery stores, drug stores, and gas station chains”. But the proposed law explicitly states that in order to qualify as a “food store,” an establishment must sell “food for consumption off the seller’s premises either alone or in combination with grocery items or other nondurable items typically found in a grocery store,” as well as “fresh or processed meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs, fresh fruit and produce, baked goods and baking ingredients, canned goods and dessert items.” I don’t know of any gas stations or drug stores that meet that high standard. On the other hand, I know of many small, locally-owned grocery stores (the kinds we all shopped in before the era of supermarkets) that are not “chains” who would qualify under this law, and I can’t think of any reason why these shops shouldn’t be able to complete for wine sales with small, local-owned package stores.
  • The opponents claim that, “Liquor licenses will double, but there are no provisions to increase the enforcement budget.” In fact, liquor licenses aren’t free; municipalities set and charge fees for issuance of liquor licenses they choose to issue. Those fees are what fund increased enforcement programs.
  • Finally, the same group questions whether “national grocery and convenience store chains” have the incentive to police underage drinking, since “violations will only lead to the temporary closure of their wine sections”. But liquor licenses can be permanently revoked by the licensing authorities for violations of the law.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t valid reasons why someone might choose not to vote for this proposed law. This blogger, for example, opposes question 1 in part because he feels that no “public interest” is served by making wine more available for purchase. This proposed law would certainly allow cities and towns to make wine available in more locations if they so choose. Sensible people might also worry about underage drinkers buying wine in a supermarket, but I’d be more confident about enforcement in a Stop and Shop where managers are always on duty than I would in the Milford gas station whose one on-duty clerk is permitted to sell beer.

I don’t expect you to take my word for any of this, of course. Read the proposed law yourself. I challenge you to find anywhere in there the Armageddon that the “Vote No” people insist passage of this question would bring.

AN ACT TO INCREASE CONSUMER CONVENIENCE AND CHOICE BY PERMITTING FOOD STORES TO SELL WINE

Be it enacted by the People, and by their authority as follows:

Chapter one hundred and thirty-eight of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting the following section:

Section 15B. An additional class of licenses allowing the sale of wine at food stores is hereby created. These licenses shall be known as “wine at food store licenses” and may be issued at the discretion of local licensing authorities following the procedures set forth in section fifteen A of this chapter. For purposes of this section “food store&qout; shall mean a grocery store, shop, supermarket, warehouse-type seller, club, outlet, or other seller, which sells at retail food for consumption off the seller’s premises either alone or in combination with grocery items or other nondurable items typically found in a grocery store, provided such items are sold to individuals for their own personal, family, or household use; and provided further, that such food store must carry fresh or processed meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs, fresh fruit and produce, baked goods and baking ingredients, canned goods and dessert items.

Local licensing authorities may issue wine at food store licenses to individuals or business entities duly organized under the laws of the Commonwealth or any other state, provided the applicant is approved by the commission; and provided further that any individual applicant is twenty-one years of age or older and has not been convicted of a felony. No license holder may hold more than ten percent of the total number of wine at food store licenses this section authorizes local authorities to issue throughout the commonwealth, but wine at food store licenses shall not be considered in applying any limits on the number of licenses this chapter otherwise authorizes applicants to hold or local licensing authorities to issue. Irrespective of the number of other licenses issued under this chapter by a city or town’s licensing authorities, the local licensing authorities in any city or town are authorized, in their discretion, to issue up to five wine at food store licenses and, in any city or town with more than five thousand residents, to issue one additional such license for each additional population unit of five thousand or any fraction thereof residing in that city or town. Holders of such licenses may sell wine alone or in combination with any other item or items they offer for sale.

Except as expressly provided in this section, the provisions of law applicable to the issuance, renewal, suspension, and termination of licenses issued pursuant to section fifteen and the regulation of and operation by such license holders shall apply to wine at food store licenses and license holders. The amount of any initial or renewal fee for such a license shall be determined by the local licensing authorities issuing or renewing that license.

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