With controversy swirling around the state Liquor Commission, expect some lawmakers to make a play to pull back some of the Commission’s authority during the next legislative session.
The commission has drawn the ire of House Speaker William O’Brien in recent months. O’Brien established a committee to investigate the commission on a number of fronts. The news that the commission had posted job listings for director of enforcement and director of administration even though those positions were currently occupied only further incensed O’Brien.
Eddie Edwards, current director of enforcement, had recently testified before the Special House Committee to Evaluate the State Liquor Commission, which O’Brien created. Edwards has been critical of the Commission’s operations recently.
“If a government agency were trying to look like they were attempting to engage in a cover-up, they could not do a better job than the current efforts of the Liquor Commission,” O’Brien said in a statement. “Posting a job of an employee who is assisting a Legislative committee would be viewed as a great way of buying silence and limiting the value of testimony. This is a wholly inappropriate act, and if the Commissioners have even a shred of common sense, they will pull back from this plan.”
Here’s the key piece from O’Brien: “This is one more bright light indication as to why it was an enormous mistake to take oversight responsibility away from the Legislature and Executive Council.”
Two years ago, the commission received legislative approval to act more like a business — it received more independence in budgeting and decision making. Of course not everybody likes that it doesn’t need legislative approval or Executive Council approval for budgeting. On top of that, some people don’t agree with the whole notion that the state is in the liquor business to begin with, even if it is a profitable area of state government in a tough economic time. It’s not necessarily a partisan issue, which will potentially make it all the more interesting come next session.
That may be the goal right now, to shine a bright — and negative — light on the commission in advance of next session. That could provide the political opportunity to rein the commission back in.
And the beat goes on. A Union Leader report last week raised questions about how the commission compensates temporary part-time workers who work Sundays or holidays. Those workers are not currently being paid overtime when they work Sundays or holidays, but state Employees Association President Diana Lacey suggested the commission wasn’t applying the contract correctly, the article said.
Add that to $100,000 worth of wine that went missing earlier this year, and allegations the commission hired a lobbyist to lobby lawmakers on a piece of legislation; commissioners say the lobbyist was hired to do a study, not lobby.
Rightfully or not, the commission has found itself directly in the middle of O’Brien’s crosshairs. These issues also allow O’Brien to stay in the headlines leading up to an election. He’d probably rather be seen as championing the fight against the commission than many of the other things Democrats will be trying to tie him to this fall.