Pa. House OKs liquor privatization bill

Posted: March 22, 2013

HARRISBURG - In a historic vote, the House of Representatives has passed a bill that would privatize the sale of wine and hard liquor in Pennsylvania.

After seven hours of debate Wednesday, the House voted 105-90 to approve the measure, which calls for gradually selling off licenses to the private sector. Beer retailers would have the first shot at grabbing a license, then others in the private sector, including supermarkets and big-box stores, would be able to enter the liquor arena. State Stores would be phased out over time, and may be even allowed to remain open in certain counties.

The bill is a toned-down version of a bolder, more aggressive privatization plan Gov. Corbett had proposed earlier this year. But the administration nonetheless supports it and has lobbied hard for it.

Still, despite the House's historic vote - this is the farthest any privatization measure has moved legislatively since the end of Prohibition in 1933 - the bill faces an uncertain future as it heads to Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) told reporters Wednesday that he expects the chamber to take up the issue in the next 30 to 60 days. But he said he also expects that the Senate will make changes to the bill, possibly even major ones.

He noted that although the House has been working on privatization for a long time, "it is not something that has been an item of active interest and discussion in the Senate."

But this much is clear, Pileggi said: "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."

Though Pileggi dodged the question of whether his caucus prefers modernizing the current system to selling it to the private sector - saying he doesn't subscribe to "labels" - the fact remains that top leaders in the Senate have made no secret where they stand: they have said they would prefer to modernize the State Store system.

Even Pileggi has said he thinks it is possible to give customers the convenience and choice they need without a sell-off of the system.

Pileggi did note that the House bill, as now written, does call for a hybrid system that would allow state wine and liquor stores to be phased out gradually, with the possibility of some even remaining open in certain counties. But the bill also calls for shutting the whole retail end down if there ends up being fewer than 100 stores left in the state, once private industry has a shot at entering the liquor market.

Though Pileggi did not say it out loud, his words made it clear that there is still a long road ahead legislatively for any privatization measure.

"We need 26 of our 27 members in our caucus at a minimum to pass a bill, so there is a very practical consideration ahead about what proposal would 26 members of the Senate Republican caucus support," he said, adding: "And we haven't had this discussion yet."


Contact Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or acouloumbis@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @AngelasInk

 

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