Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

State House Oks Private Liquor Sales Governor Hails Bill, but Senate Leaders Say They Plan to Alter Measure

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

State House Oks Private Liquor Sales Governor Hails Bill, but Senate Leaders Say They Plan to Alter Measure

Article excerpt

HARRISBURG -- Citing years of efforts to end the state business in liquor, House Republicans on Thursday passed legislation that would allow private sales of wine and liquor while phasing out government stores.

Supporters lauded the vote as historic, saying it was the first time a liquor privatization bill had passed either chamber of the General Assembly. But the legislation now heads to the Senate, where prominent members support more gradual change.

During hours of floor debate, House Democrats railed against the proposal, saying it would eliminate thousands of state jobs and risk social harm from a proliferation of liquor outlets. But Republican leaders were confident they had the votes, and, less than a year after another privatization effort came up short, they rallied support to clear the legislation, 105-90. A handful of Republicans joined every voting Democrat in opposing the bill.

Supporters said a private system would offer consumers more options in products and shopping hours, and argued the current system presents an innate conflict of interest as state government both regulates and promotes the sale of alcohol.

The House passed a bill that creates 1,200 licenses for the sale of wine and spirits, first available to beer distributors, with the possibility of up to 600 additional licenses as state liquor stores are phased out. Groceries could buy licenses to sell wine but not beer, except through existing restaurant licenses.

"It is an A-plus product," Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, the majority leader, said after the vote. "I think Pennsylvanians, should it be enacted into law as it is, would be saying, 'Why didn't we do this 40 years ago.' "

But passage delivers the legislation to the Senate, where Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, refrained from assessing the bill's provisions but said amendments are widely expected.

"I don't think anyone expects the Senate to simply take up the House bill and move it to the governor's desk as is," he said.

Mr. Pileggi noted, too, that his chamber has not shared the eagerness of the House to end state liquor operations: "It's not something that has been an item of active interest and discussion in the Senate."

Gov. Tom Corbett kicked off this year's privatization attempts in January with his own proposal. The legislation that passed the House contains significant changes -- the governor would have allowed groceries and convenience stores to sell beer and would have set a deadline for shuttering the state stores -- but Mr. Corbett gathered with House leaders after the vote to praise the bill as a momentous step.

"Today the House of Representatives clearly made history," the governor said. "Never before has a liquor-privatization bill passed either chamber of the Legislature, so my thanks to all of them."

He acknowledged, though, that significant work remains before the bill -- or a version of it -- can become law. …

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