VA ABC Panel to Recommend Changes; Funding and Changes Not Yet Clear
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
In last month’s issue of Foodservice Monthly, we provided a short update about and introduction to Governor McAuliffe’s Virginia ABC Enforcement Expert Review Panel.
The 20 person Expert Review Panel established under Governor McAuliffe's Executive Order Number Forty for Improving ABC Law Enforcement is chaired by Brian Moran, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security. The Panel hosts stakeholders from across the state; including state and local public safety agencies, state and local officials, students (Abraham Axler, President at University of Virginia Student Council), and citizen groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
The Panel is tasked with reviewing many aspects of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control with the goal to provide recommendations, if needed, to improve the Department’s operations and enforcement.
The July 8 meeting of the Panel produced several significant updates and testimonies. A common theme emerged that moving the VA ABC’s Bureau of Law Enforcement’s role to State or Local Law Enforcement agencies, separating Regulation from Enforcement, would be detrimental to all agencies involved. Many factors play into this—including staffing challenges, pay variances, training costs, and many other disruptions—but most important is that, in most instances, VA ABC Enforcement agents have acted fairly and within their jurisdiction.
VHTA Legal Counsel on VA ABC Tom Lisk, of Eckert Seamans, provided testimony to the Panel on behalf of the restaurant, hotel, and travel industries reiterating earlier testimony from other industry representatives that, “It should be clear that, from what we’ve seen, the ABC is not a rogue agency, nor that its agents are somehow out-of-control or improperly trained.”
Even still, under Executive Order Number 40, all VA ABC Enforcement Agents are currently undergoing re-training.
Given the testimony provided by VHTA and others, it is likely that the Panel will ultimately recommend that Enforcement and Regulation remain under a common Department, the VA ABC.
As it stands now, an overwhelming majority or underage drinking—92.2%—is perpetuated by unlicensed individuals, family and friends. Only 7.8% of underage drinking is attributed to licensed establishments. Any separation of the two would further limit the resources to enforce regulations over this non-licensed community and place more burden on retail and service establishments in the state.
The Panel will still need to provide recommendations into the Departments operations; VHTA, along with our Legal Counsel and—we hope—others, will encourage the Panel to push for additional funding to the Department. A Department that, over the last 10 years, has seen a 30% reduction in agents and a significant increase in licensees, effectively doubling each agent’s workload.
VHTA will recommend that this additional funding come from the agency’s own profits, not from increased license fees to restaurants. In the last five years, VA ABC has provided approximately $1.8 billion in funding to the state.
We will provide another update following the Panel’s fourth and final meeting in August.