House passes compromise bill on liquor sales

Supporters urge Wolf to sign

Michael Sadowski//June 7, 2016

House passes compromise bill on liquor sales

Supporters urge Wolf to sign

Michael Sadowski//June 7, 2016

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives on Tuesday afternoon passed a bill that would allow wine sales in grocery stores and other outlets and expand beer sales.

The legislation already passed the Senate, putting the issue before Gov. Tom Wolf.

In a statement, the governor stopped short of saying he would sign the legislation.

“As I have always said, my goal is to modernize the sale of liquor and beer in Pennsylvania to ensure convenience and satisfaction for customers,” he said in the statement. “Once the bill reaches my desk, I will conduct a final review of the legislation to ensure it meets my goals of enhancing the customer experience, increasing much-needed revenue to help balance our budget, and bringing our wine and spirits system into the 21st century.”

State Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), also the House speaker, said he believes  Wolf will sign the bill. It is the third version of liquor modernization that the House has sent to Wolf for his signature, the last one coming in November.

“I’m quite positive the governor is going to sign this bill,” Turzai said in an impromptu press conference in the Capitol he posted on YouTube. “He knows that the sale of wine and spirits has to move into the 21st century.”

The House passed the bill 157-31 with widespread support from Democrats, who generally had opposed liquor reform in the past. Wine and spirits — hard alcohol like whiskey and vodka — currently can be purchased only at state-run liquor stores, which employ about 5,000 people.

HB 1690 no longer calls for privatizing liquor sales and moving them out of state-run stores, as Republican lawmakers had proposed in the past. Instead, it allows wine sales at grocery stores, a measure Republicans have long supported. Additional provisions affect beer sales.

Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana ) said he believes with Wolf’s signature, the law could go into effect by Thanksgiving. The bill also would etch into state law beer sales at convenience stores.

“This legislation will generate approximately $150 million initially and growing revenues each year to aid the budget,” Reed said in a news release. “It is time to put that money where it belongs, instead of propping up an antiquated and outdated liquor system.”

Lawmakers were calling Tuesday’s passage “liquor modernization” to denote that it is different than full privatization.

“With this legislation, we’re taking the initiative to modernize the system so it works better for consumers while protecting nearly 5,000 existing jobs of the men and women who work in wine and spirits shops in every part of the state,” State Rep. and Liquor Control Committee Democratic Chairman Paul Costa (D-Allegheny) said.

The measure, however, only includes wine. That could be bad for the spirits industry, according to a national trade association.

“Pennsylvanian consumers want a good selection of products at competitive prices — not segregated spirits that force them to make multiple shopping stops,” said David Wojna, vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council.