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BATON ROUGE - August 5, 1998 -- Over the past two years, there has been a great deal of progress made in the current administration of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) under the Louisiana Department of Revenue. In that time, ATC has initiated the formation of historical organizational alliances, the changing of the agency''s structure, the streamlining of regulatory practices through technology implementation, and the improvement of the agency''s public image by improving services to the taxpayers.
Revenue Secretary John Kennedy and Commissioner Murphy J. Painter''s goals for ATC have been straightforward: the firm but fair enforcement of all alcoholic beverage and tobacco laws in the state, reduction of non-compliance of underage access to alcohol and tobacco, and improved services to Louisiana taxpayers.
There has been a concerted effort to establish an unprecedented balance of cooperation and support from industry and anti-alcohol and anti-tobacco organizations alike. This is being done through fair enforcement practices, with the driving focus being to reduce underage access to alcohol and tobacco as well as equitable collection of tax revenues for the state. "For years, we have been combating these issues alone. We are now very enthusiastic about tackling these problems in partnership with others," says Secretary Kennedy.
When the Foster administration took office 2 1/2 years ago, the regulation of alcohol laws was lax, as evidenced by a nearly 60% noncompliance rate. Through efforts such as organizational restructuring and expansion, diligent hiring practices and in-house training programs, the noncompliance rate plummeted to less than 25% by midyear 1998. The improvement in compliance for tobacco is even more dramatic. Barely above 20% compliance in 1996, the compliance rate had reached 70% by midyear 1997.
"The message is getting across to alcohol and tobacco retailers - follow state laws or suffer the consequences," says Commissioner Painter. Programs such as Cops in Shops, which are industry sponsored, show the lengths to which responsible industry members are willing to go to assist regulators in preventing youth access to both products. "Instead of just focusing on the retailer, it puts responsibility on the perpetrator as well," says Painter.
In February 1996, the office employed 30 people, with only 14 enforcement agents who were responsible for covering 64 parishes, 4.2 million residents, and more than 15,000 retail establishments. Under Secretary Kennedy and Commissioner Painter, with the full support of Governor Foster and the Legislature, ATC has been given the resources and support required for adding more enforcement personnel. By June 1998, the ATC enforcement division has expanded to 42 agents.
In 1997, ATC received support from The Century Council to establish and coordinate the Cops in Shops program statewide. This program represents s one of the innovative public/private sector partnerships in the fight against youth access to alcohol. ATC coordinates and funds partnerships between local law enforcement, prosecutors and retailers who work together to deny alcohol sales to underage persons and to stop adults from purchasing alcohol on behalf of underage persons.
A commitment from Secretary Kennedy to bring ATC into the technological age has allowed for streamlining many office procedures. An integrated alcohol and tobacco permit database system has been implemented that allows for timely services to taxpayers seeking permits. Other advantages include the ability to track fees and fines, automatically notify permit holders about upcoming renewal dates, and track the violation status of permit holders. The new database system also provides a wealth of electronic information that can contribute to the policy development and planning efforts of the agency.
Also in continuing development is an agency Internet web site, which became accessible at http://www.atcla.com as of July 1998. The site offers information about the agency, application processes for alcohol and tobacco permits, and includes answers to frequently asked questions in order to help taxpayers avoid time-consuming mistakes during the application process.
The full enforcement of Louisiana''s alcohol and tobacco laws, coupled with ATC''s zero-tolerance stand with respect to underage access to alcohol and tobacco, has resulted in an improved image for the agency. ATC agents are out in force across the state for major events such as Mardi Gras parades, fairs, festivals, and college football games, checking the ID''s of persons with alcohol, and issuing numerous citations to underage drinkers.
Secretary Kennedy and Commissioner Painter hope to bring the compliance level with the alcohol and tobacco law to at least 90% levels during this administration, while at the same time fully supporting the many legitimate business people in the state in their own efforts to earn a living and raise their families.
- Increased staff from 30 to 77, including a 60% increase in enforcement personnel.
- Successfully implemented the Tobacco Regulations and Enforcement legislation creating the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control.
- Received grants from DHH to conduct tobacco compliance checks.
- Reduced alcohol non-compliance rates from 68% to 25% and reduced tobacco non-compliance rates from 78% to 30%.
- Successfully implemented a Responsible Vendor Program, including the development of administrative guidelines.
- Developed an integrated alcohol and tobacco permit database.
- Streamlined the permit application process - reduced the number of forms required from 15 to seven.
- Coordinated license expiration dates for alcohol and tobacco permits.
- Produced an agency newsletter to inform lawmakers, the industry, and the public of ATC activities and changes in the law.
- Developed and published an agency Internet web site.
- Went online with an 800 MHz portable radio system statewide.
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