April, 2005 -- Updated, May 17: see
And Now it Gets Personal.
"Why wait till this becomes onerous? Stop it now. If youíve
got a keg registration law, ask your local police and your legislator
what the results have been, in measurable numbers. Write a letter to the
newspaper explaining that youíre all for stopping underage drinking,
but why not use something that works? If you donít have a keg
registration law where you live, find out if oneís pending. If it is,
ask why, and ask for real numbers, not policy projection bushwah. Keg
registration, case registration, whatever new guise it takes, is part of
the plan of the new Prohibitionists. Fight it, and refuse to take part
That was my advice to you one year ago. Now
itís my advice to myself. State Senators John
Rafferty (R-Montgomery) and Sean
Logan (D-Allegheny) are holding public hearings this month on a
package of bills to fight underage drinking, one of which is a keg
"tagging" law. The details are sketchy, but it's keg
registration, plain and simple.
So Iím gearing up. Iíve already responded to the enemy in
print. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an opinion piece from
Felicity DeBacco-Erni on "keg tagging," which is
apparently the new friendly name for keg registration.
DeBacco-Erni made a number of statements that showed kegs to be large
containers of beer, one truly menacing statement about using
keg tagging to allow police officers to show up at houses that have
bought kegs to hector the adults about not using the keg to allow
underage drinking, and a number of statements about the evils of
alcohol on campus. Nowhere in the piece was DeBacco-Erni able
to convincingly connect kegs and the evils of alcohol; actually,
she never even made the attempt.
Thatís because, as I pointed out in my
response, kegs are just containers. Theyíre large, steel beer
cans. My response ran in the Inquirer about a month later, on the front
page of the Voices section, and I actually got phone calls and e-mail
about it, 2:1 positive. Point to the forces of good and freedom,
but it's one thing, and it's gone. I'm writing to my state senator and
representative to register my opposition to the law, but that's just one
letter, and it's gone.
I want Pennsylvania to be the first state to take a serious look
at this law. I want my legislature to examine keg
registration carefully and rationally, hold it up in the light, see that
it doesn't work, and toss it aside. You want to stop underage
drinking? Fine, I've got ideas on that, but
let's not do keg registration, because it doesn't work.
How to accomplish that? First, gather every argument. Keg
registration is an invasion of privacy. It has an unbalanced
impact on small businesses; to wit, retail beer stores and
the craft-brewing industry, which sells a lot of its beer on
draft (and no, I'm not cynical enough to suggest that this may be the
reason the big brewers aren't actively opposing it...oh, wait, I guess I
just did). Keg registration encourages litter and is generally
anti-environment. Keg registration makes it easier to buy a 13"
Bowie knife than 5 gallons of light beer. Keg registration as
proposed in Pennsylvania leaves the enforcement details, and fines and
penalties up to the un-elected Liquor Control Board. Keg
registration targets college students. Most importantly, there is
no evidence that I'm aware of that keg registration works at all.
Prepare with references. I'm working on a piece on keg
registration for New Brewer, so I'm getting all my back-up
material. I'm talking to brewers who've seen keg sales drop off
and who've had to deal with the paperwork. I'm going to talk to police
chiefs to see if anything actually came out of these laws. I'm
going to see if the MADD folks will talk about the laws' actual effectiveness.
Prepare alternatives. That's one thing I'm learning from
watching the Democrats in the wake of Kerry's loss and their weak
position in Congress: don't "just say no." So I won't
say "Forget keg registration!" and leave it at that. You've
got to have something to offer, and I'll either find alternatives that
are already working or come up with some suggestions of my own.
Next, I'm going to get the word out. First step is to send out
letters to every local talk radio show I can find to try to get on to
talk about the issue. If they're right-wing, lean on the libertarian
aspects of it. If they're left-wing, lean on the fairness aspects
of it. Give them a good civil rant on the topic, and maybe supply
them with a contact for an opposing view. Then I'll take that Inquirer
piece, rewrite it to stand alone, and start pitching it to every major
paper in the state. And you guys are probably going to get a Pint about
it as well; I apologize ahead of time to those of you who are not from
Rafferty and Logan are, as noted above, holding hearings: one
in Pittsburgh, one in Harrisburg, one in Philadelphia. I aim to attend
at least one of them. If I can, I'd like to speak at them, because I strongly
suspect that the people who will be speaking at these hearings are going
to be 100% in favor of this idea. I'm going to suggest to the
Pennsylvania Malt Beverage Distributors Association that they show up to
oppose this bill as well. It's more paperwork and fewer keg sales
for them. Then I'll get in touch with homebrew clubs, beer appreciation
websites, and every beer-lover group I can find in the state to let them
know we need to show up, be civil, and be counted.
Moving on from there will involve keeping the momentum up. The
problem is, if you want a bill passed, once it's passed, you can
celebrate and go home. If you don't want it passed, you have to
keep showing up year after year after year. They've been trying to pass
this bill for over five years.
Why am I so determined to stop this bill? Because you have to
stop these anti-alcohol people every chance you get. Because I hate the
ignorant attitude represented by the kind of people who will say "If
it saves one life, it's worth it!" and the legislators who
knuckle under to that. Mostly, though, it's because there are more
effective ways to stop binge drinking.
I don't deny that binge drinking is a bad thing. I don't deny
that drinking and driving causes horrible deaths every year. But I do
say that it's high time that we started fighting these problems with
programs that more tightly target those who are behaving badly, and
leave the rest of us, who can handle it, alone.
4/22/05: I was on Michael
Smerconish's show this morning on WPHT-AM,
they did a live broadcast from Goodnoe's
Dairy Bar here in Newtown. I thought it was for the usual
"so you're a beer writer, isn't that interesting" schtick, but
he wanted to know why I was against keg registration. I gave him
what I had, mainly that it didn't work. I didn't convince him, he
seemed to think it was an obvious Good Thing, but it evidently
worked on the crowd: I got some handshakes and "You're right,
buddy" comments as I left.
I'm also now on the schedule to testify at
Pennsylvania legislature hearings on a package of underage drinking
prevention laws, including a badly-written (my opinion) keg
registration law. The hearing will be in early June, no exact date yet. (Meantime,
I went to a similar hearing at Temple University on April 25th. MADD,
the PLCB's Enforcement and Education heads, and some people who were
really there to get grant money...we got our work cut out for us!)