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Two more liquor reform bills clear Pa. House committee

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State House Republicans in favor of liquor privatization have teed up two more reform bills for the full House to consider, but Gov. Tom Wolf has already said he's not a fan of the new legislative recipes brewed up by House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny).

The House Liquor Control Committee on Tuesday passed, by narrow margins, House Bill 975 and H.B. 1075. Both bills are sponsored by Turzai, a longtime advocate of liquor privatization.

The first bill, dubbed the "free the wine" bill, would give all grocery stores the opportunity to apply for permits to sell wine, regardless of seating, while allowing those retailers to purchase wine through private wholesalers and wineries. The second bill would divest the wholesale wine and spirits operation at the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and allow private wholesalers to sell directly to licensees. 

Divestiture of the wholesale system, supporters say, would allow importers who are already operating in Pennsylvania to bring in a larger variety of products while lowering costs for consumers and improving convenience.

The Wolf administration said it's not ready to consider any additional reforms following big changes made last year under Act 39, which opened up wine-to-go sales in supermarkets and convenience stores that already sold beer. It also allowed breweries, wineries and distilleries to sell more of each other’s products, among other changes.

Act 39 was followed by Act 166, which dropped the recently enacted 12-pack minimum and granted beer distributors additional flexibility to sell six-packs, four-packs, singles for mix-a-six and larger bottles of more unusual or rare beers.

The governor is focused on "allowing the consumer-centric reforms enacted last year to be fully implemented and ensuring the PLCB is working to maximize returns and consumer convenience," said Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott.

Earlier this month, the same House committee passed H.B. 438 and H.B. 991, two bills that would expand upon last year's modernization efforts.

H.B. 438 would permit restaurant and hotel license holders to sell up to three liters, or about four bottles, of spirits per transaction, similar to the wine to-go permits created under Act 39.

The proposal would allow about 12,000 licensees to take advantage of takeout spirits sales in Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, H.B. 991 would give existing retailers the ability to operate so-called "franchise licenses" for the state wine and spirits system.

They essentially would be mini liquor stores inside larger retail stores. The licenses would be available based on a quota system, according to the proposal.

The four bills don't really complement each other and it's not yet clear which bills may come out of the House and advance to the Senate.

Some Republicans seem happy to take small steps to try to boost state revenue and consumer convenience, while maintaining an asset in the PLCB that could be hard to replace following a one-time payout from its sale.

"Sometimes it's good to make changes and sit back and watch how everything works," Rep. Scott Petri (R-Bucks), prime sponsor of the bill that became Act 166, said in March. "The industry is so interconnected."

Petri was the only Republican on the House committee to vote against all four liquor reform proposals.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jasons@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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Terry Reed April 19, 2017 4:55 pm

Now if we can just get them to stop charging us sales tax on the liquor tax!

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