Controversial bar raids lead to hearing in Harrisburg

    Pennsylvania lawmakers gathered in Harrisburg this week for a beer… hearing, that is.

    Pennsylvania lawmakers gathered in Harrisburg this week for a beer…hearing, that is.

    The house and senate Liquor Control Committees heard testimony on the controversial raids of several bars and beer distributors last month.

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    Husband and wife bar owners Brendan Hartranft and Leigh Maida say the raids on their bars reflect problems in the state’s convoluted liquor laws – and the agency that enforces those laws. The couple’s three bars were raided for containing unregistered beer following an anonymous tip to the state police.

    Maida said it was unclear to her what regulations she’s required to follow – even after reading the state Liquor code.

    Maida:
    The section on brand registration itself does not once mention any responsibility – or any real part about what I should be doing.

    Officials from the Liquor Control Bureau say the responsibility to register beers lies with the brewery, but the three-tiered system of brewers, distributors, and bar owners holds each responsible for the sale of unregistered beer.

    But South Philadelphia State Senator Larry Farnese says the board has failed to inform business owners of their responsibilities.

    Farnese:
    They did everything they possibly could to comply. I don’t see how they’re at fault. The fault is, again, with the lack of modernization with the board, their website, their procedures. They should spend more time reaching out to their tavern owners.

    Farnese says he plans to introduce legislation to require the Liquor Control Board to inform agents of a bar’s history before they decide to go in on a raid.

    In addition, lawmakers accused the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement of using excessive force in their raids when they sent about a dozen agents to each of the bars armed with guns. But Major John Lutz testified the show of force was a precaution, as agents are never sure what the level of danger will be when they raid a bar.

    Lutz:
    They’re going into what’s potentially a volatile environment. With all due respect to these three bars, there are a lot of bars that may not have that particular clientele, and there is a danger.

    But lawmakers argued the bar had no history of violent activity – a fact that could have been confirmed by a simple record check.

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