A stop to some stop-and-go shops Expected law will give Phila. permit authority over takeout beer shops, criticized by activists for years.

Posted: November 23, 2006

A long-awaited fix to a law that would give Philadelphia the authority to regulate troublesome takeout beer shops cleared its last legislative hurdle yesterday.

The legislation had been anxiously awaited by neighborhood activists, who have campaigned for years against the so-called stop-and-go shops, saying they attract drunks and diminish a neighborhood's quality of life.

Common Pleas Court judges had tossed out an earlier version of the same law in July. That iteration had in effect made Philadelphia City Council the judge, jury and prosecutor when it came to determining which establishments could sell takeout beer. The court deemed that a violation of the state constitution.

The new legislation was an amendment to another bill that passed 27-22 in the state Senate late Tuesday night and 112-75 in the House of Representatives early yesterday morning. Under the legislation, a three-person hearing board - appointed by the mayor, confirmed by City Council, and housed within the Department of Licenses and Inspections - is to review applications from shops that wish to sell takeout beer.

Stop-and-go operators will have to go back to the board every two years to seek to have their permits renewed. If Gov. Rendell signs the bill, as expected, the city's existing stop-and-go's will have to seek approval from the new board by next October.

The board can refuse to issue a permit if testimony and evidence suggest that doing so would "adversely effect the welfare, health, peace and morals of the city or its residents."

City officials and state legislators are confident the bill's latest version will pass constitutional muster. They had sparred over the revisions, and very nearly failed to reach a deal before the General Assembly finished its 2006 legislative business yesterday morning.

State legislators - including Sen. Anthony Williams (D., Phila.), who wrote the original bill - had refused to rework the legislation in a way that would simply give permit-granting authority to the city, and instead wanted the law to specify what board, in which department, would handle permit requests.

Mayor Street's administration, Williams contended, was being "politically inept and, frankly, a little bit stupid" by not providing the state with specific answers sooner. Loree Jones, Street's secretary of external affairs, retorted that "folks were frustrated and looking for a scapegoat."

Last week, her office sent a letter to lawmakers detailing how the city would handle takeout permits. It appears to have reached Harrisburg just in time.

Contact staff writer Patrick Kerkstra at 215-854-2827 or pkerkstra@phillynews.com.

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