Privatization would boost drinking, board hears

Posted: May 02, 2013

HARRISBURG - Liquor privatization is bad.

That seemed to be the sum total of testimony Tuesday at the first of three hearings in the state Senate on Gov. Corbett's push to get Pennsylvania out of the liquor business.

The hearing in the Law and Justice Committee focused on the impact privatization would have on public health and law enforcement. Witnesses from the union for state troopers, who enforce liquor laws, and from drug and alcohol prevention and treatment groups said privatizing would lead to more liquor outlets, more drinking, and more alcohol-related crime and violence.

"Common sense tells you, if you increase access to a desired substance, you are going to increase the use of that. And if you increase consumption, you will increase alcohol-related problems," testified Deb Beck, president of the Drug and Alcohol Services Providers of Pennsylvania, citing several studies. "I've been surprised that people are still fighting about that."

She asked whether senators had witnessed anyone detoxifying from alcohol: "You cannot imagine the human suffering. . . . Why on earth would we try to consciously move a proposal that is going to increase access to this addictive drug?"

The hearing was the latest sign that not all legislators are sold on privatizing, and that some mighty arm-twisting may be needed to get a bill that satisfies Corbett's goal of shuttering the State Stores.

The administration, hoping to advance that goal before legislators' summer break, is hoping for quick Senate action on the House-passed bill that would phase out State Stores while letting entrepreneurs - beer distributors first among them - begin selling wine and liquor. But the clock is ticking, and Republicans who control the Senate are not happy with the House bill.

The next hearing is in mid-May, the last in early June. Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R., Bucks), the committee chairman, wants the bill revised by mid-June - leaving House members two weeks to consider the revisions even as they try to agree on a budget by July 1.

Asked why Tuesday's hearing was dominated by critiques of privatization, McIlhinney noted that law enforcement witnesses took pains to say they were not taking sides. He said witnesses from the beverage industry would be at the next hearing.

"I guess the advocates for privatization would say I shouldn't even listen to the health-care side," he said. "Well, I can't do that."


Contact Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or acouloumbis@phillynews.com.

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