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Herald Mail Media: Comments about FED nothing more than 'political retribution'

In the Feb. 9 article published by Herald-Mail Media (“Franchot takes aim at alcohol regulation bill, Poole says ‘refocus’”), former Del. Bruce Poole made comments about my Field Enforcement Division (FED) and the current legislative effort to remove this nationally recognized regulatory division — comprised of dedicated law enforcement officers and inspectors — from my agency. A correction of the record is warranted, to say the least.

Mr. Poole, formerly the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, led a task force that was legislatively mandated to study whether or not alcohol regulation should be transferred from my agency — where it has resided since 1936 — to a new, independent state agency that is not only unnecessary, but costly to taxpayers. To be clear, this effort amounts to nothing but political retribution for my advocacy on behalf of Maryland’s craft brewing industry.

Now, Sen. Ben Kramer of Montgomery County, who sponsored the legislation to establish the aforementioned task force, has introduced a bill to strip my agency of regulatory authority over alcohol, tobacco and motor fuel.

It is important to point out key facts that would make any objective observer question not only the merits of the legislation, but also the logic behind the Kramer task force’s misguided conclusions.

First, the Kramer task force was established to review alcohol regulations and public health concerns in Maryland. Over the course of their deliberations, at no point did any of the members or witnesses question the caliber, the integrity or the results generated by the Comptroller’s Field Enforcement Division. In fact, even those with whom we have honest policy differences offered nothing but praise for how these men and women go about their work.

Second, aside from granting FED Director Jeff Kelly the privilege of testifying before this commission last fall, Mr. Poole has never reached out to the Field Enforcement Division, nor has he visited our offices to gain an understanding of their work. He is commenting on a subject that he fundamentally doesn’t understand.

Third, as noted earlier, the legislation introduced by Sen. Kramer would not only strip my agency of its regulatory authority over alcohol, but also tobacco and motor fuel. Even though the latter two weren’t even discussed by the task force and have never been vetted in any way, they were included in the final body of recommendations by this group.

Lastly, the Kramer task force was, under law, supposed to have issued its final report — which would, theoretically, offer context and policy justifications for its recommendations, by Dec. 1. To date, with the bill hearing on Sen. Kramer’s legislation a week away, that report has not been submitted and there is no evidence that it will be submitted.

Enforcing our state’s alcohol, tobacco, and motor fuel laws is serious business, and I’m proud of the record of accomplishment that my FED agents have delivered on behalf of Maryland taxpayers. Using this critical law enforcement agency as a political pawn is beneath the dignity of the General Assembly, and I urge my colleagues in the legislature to reject Sen. Kramer’s reckless bill.

Peter Franchot has served as Maryland’s comptroller since 2007.

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