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has been conducted without a certificate, places from which certificates have been surrendered or expired, and complaints received from citizens generally.
Public sentiment towards the law has greatly improved since its enactment, but failure on the part of some local officials to perform their sworn duties has in very many cases rendered ineffectual the punitive sections of the act. If the same active co-operation on the part of local officials, mayors, heads of police departments and district attorneys, which has been apparent in a few counties of the State, could become general, a condition would result more satisfactory to the great mass of our citizens and the complaints heard about the non-enforcement of the present Excise statute would almost, if not entirely, cease.
The civil proceedings and actions instituted by the Department have always been uniformly successful. The result of criminal prosecutions conducted by local officials upon evidence furnished district attorneys has been much less gratifying.
In some localities where petit juries have found judgments for thousands of dollars, in cases conducted by attorneys of the Department against liquor tax bondsmen, grand juries presented with the same evidence have failed to indict the offender. The bondsmen have paid the penalty and the guilty principal, the real violator of the law, has escaped all punishment at the hands of the local criminal authorities.
Methods of keeping the many excise accounts and statistics, involving an immense amount of labor and detail bookkeeping are briefly discussed, and mention made of the fact that in collecting and disbursing over $73,500,000, under the supervision of the Department, since its organization, not a cent has been lost. Referring to local option in towns, the report shows that the number of license and no-license towns in the State remains practically the same from year to year, although certain towns are continually changing. The people of the State vote upon the local option provisions of the Liquor Tax Law independently of their party affiliations, and the local option status of a town is in no way dependent on the partisan majority there.
Since the organization of the Department, the law bureau thereof has handled more than 1,500 cases, and the many court decisions therein have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars to the taxpayers of the State, besides firmly establishing the law and rights of citizens thereunder. During the last year, actions and proceedings have been brought and maintained in 43 different counties of the State, and the receipts resulting therefrom exceed $58,000, being $25,000 more than all expenses of litigation, including salaries of all attorneys employed by the
Department, and in New York and Kings county, the number of places claiming hotel privileges has been reduced from 3,514 to 2,167, or nearly 40 per cent.
It is estimated that 66 per cent of the annual revenue paid for liquor tax certificates is furnished in the first instance by brewing companies, who take assignments and powers of attor ney covering the certificates, as security. A large portion of the surrenders for rebate are made under such assignments and powers of attorney. The rebate business of the Department, occasioned by persons holding certificates temporarily, causes the State much expense in investigating and auditing such claims, and appearing in litigated cases continually arising therefrom.
The subject of "fake hotels" is treated at some length, attention being called to the fact that persons can only obtain the lawful privilege of trafficking as hotel keepers by complying with certain definite and strict requirements of the statute, and the fact that the law is violated in unnecessary and 'fake hotels," permitting illegal practices in direct violation of the Penal Code, as well as the Liquor Tax Law, is not a just cause for criticism of the law itself, but rather a cause for criticism of local criminal authorities, who neglect or refuse to perform their sworn duties to repress such conditions and prosecute and punish such offenders. It is a crime to maintain a disorderly house, whether called a hotel or otherwise, and after discovery, such places can only exist through the grossest indifference or malfeasance of local police and prosecuting officers. It is suggested that an increased tax on all places permitted to sell liquors on Sunday, that is, upon all hotels, would do much to eradicate the complained of evil.
Prosecution of dealers maintaining slot machines in their places of business has been continued, and during the past year a number of liquor tax certificates have been cancelled, and bonds forfeited, for this violation, but it is found difficult to carry on these prosecutions against liquor dealers so long as various gambling nickel-in-the-slot devices are openly maintained in cigar stores, candy shops, restaurants and groceries.
The matter of fines and penalties imposed by the Liquor Tax Law, upon conviction, is discussed, and it is shown that the punishments provided for therein are not excessive when compared with those imposed by previous excise and similar statutes of this and other States.
The report mentions the effect of amendments to the law, enacted by the Legislature of 1901, particularly that requiring the consent of the State Commissioner to all proceedings commenced for cancellation of liquor tax certificates, recommended
by Governor Odell to prevent suits being instituted against liquor dealers for purposes of blackmail. It is the practice of the State Commissioner to endorse applications of citizens instituting such proceedings, where he is satisfied that the same are brought in good faith, but where, upon investigation of the facts concerning the application, a situation is disclosed not indicative of good faith, or showing that the case in all probability cannot be successfully prosecuted, the Commissioner has refused consent and been sustained by the courts.
The provision placed in the law to prevent dilatory and expensive practices in the conduct of excise litigation, and enabling the court in its discretion to grant an injunction restraining all traffic by a person against whom a cancellation proceeding is pending, has resulted in the proceedings brought to revoke and cancel liquor tax certificates being tried with much less expense than formerly, although no such injunctions were applied for during the period covered by the report. The criticisms heard at the time this amendment was passed, that the injunction would be used for oppression of liquor dealers, have proven groundless.
The amendment providing that the keepers of hotels, lodging or boarding houses, where liquor is authorized to be sold, should keep a daily record of all persons entertained therein, and a list of the guests, lodgers or boarders furnished the State Commissioner of Excise upon demand, has lessened the abuses of hotel privileges under the law in the interest of law and order.
Attention is called to the fact that those holding certificates for short periods during the summer months at summer resorts, fairs, picnics, etc., and then surrendering the same for rebate, do not pay a tax commensurate with the benefits received. Amendment to the rebate provisions of the law is recommended, amounting to an increased tax upon certificates held for a short period, in order to protect the established dealer, who conducts his business and pays his tax the year round, from the muchcomplained of unfair competition of the temporary dealer, and to reduce the large extra expense to the people of the State, occasioned by the investigation and payment of rebate claims.
To overcome the lax enforcement of the law, in flagrant cases, by grand and petit juries and criminal authorities in certain sections of the State, it is suggested that the State Commissioner be authorized to designate one of the attorneys of the Department, when necessary, to assist the district attorney of any county in trials involving violations of the Liquor Tax Law.
It is also recommended that the law be so amended as to make the bond given for a liquor tax certificate a guaranty of the truth of all statements made in the application to obtain the certificate, in order to lessen fraud upon the people of the State by persons who obtain certificates through perjured application statements.
To lessen the expense of collecting the excise revenue, creation of offices of special deputy commissioners for the counties of Albany, Onondaga, Oneida and Westchester is recommended.
In addition, the report discusses Sunday opening of saloons, and the effect of alcoholism on health, also its relation to crime, giving many opinions on the subject of eminent jurists, physicians, scientists, clergymen and students of sociology, together with statistics.
Advance sheets of the report are now ready for distribution. The bound volume will be published later.