Bill to aid family-owned bars, taverns, restaurants leaves committee

Proponents of a House Bill leaving committee hope it might serve as the solution to rising costs for Pennsylvania’s restaurants and bars, according to the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association. 

The Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association (PLBTA) issued a statement supporting the Pennsylvania House Liquor Control Committee’s voted Tuesday to move House Bill 1160 out of committee. 

The vote was unanimously in favor of the measure, whose primary sponsor is Rep. Napoleon Nelson, D-Montgomery. The bill is seen by proponents as aiding the state’s family-owned bars, taverns, and licensed restaurants as they seek to recover from restrictions placed upon them during the pandemic. 

Under Rep. Nelson’s bill, liquor licensees would be able to hold an unlimited number of off-premises catering events beyond 2024. Act 87 of 2021 sunsets at the end of 2024, and if allowed to sunset, the state would revert back to liquor codes limiting the number of off-premises catering events. 

HB1160 would remove the sunset date. 

Nelson said that while the pandemic emergency is lessening, many Pennsylvania restaurants and bars continue to struggle. 

“New hurdles have appeared with raising costs due to inflation and supply chain issues along with labor shortages,” Nelson said in a statement. “We need to do all we can to help these businesses adapt and remain flexible.” 

Chuck Moran, executive director of the PLBTA, said the organization fully supports Nelson’s bill. 

“The past decade has been a financially difficult one for family-owned taverns, bars, and licensed restaurants,” said Moran. “First, the industry lost the exclusive right to sell six-packs to go, resulting in significant loss of revenue. This was followed by pandemic restrictions that closed indoor dining. Then recovery efforts were hampered by supply chain issues, inflation, and a lack of workers. 

“Each of these have acted as a gut punch to drinking establishments statewide. The time has come to give these small businesses hope that they can prosper and make it on their own in the future.”

Tavern association applauds state house passage of two bills that will help bars and restaurants

After a year of devastating COVID-19 restrictions, the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association said it is pleased to see the state legislature moving forward with two bills that would help bars and restaurants.

The state House of Representatives passed HB 425 and HB 427 with votes of 201-0.

HB 427, sponsored by now-retired Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Kittanning, would increase the discount bars and restaurants get on liquor products from 10% to 15% for the next three years.

Chuck Moran, executive director of the association, said the bill was a priority in PLBTA’s industry recovery plans.

HB 425, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Dowling, R-Harrisburg, would allow a licensee that is either closed for a long period of time, or permanently to sell their liquor or wine to another licensee. Moran said the bill would help establishments that didn’t survive the COVID-19 crisis.

“It has been widely recognized that the tavern and restaurant industry has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, and has been in survival mode since March 2020,” Moran said in a release. “Now, with the continued success of the vaccine rollout, and mitigation orders being safely eased, there does appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Both bills now head to the State Senate.

PLCB votes to waive 2021 liquor license fees

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board voted today to waive most liquor licensing fees for 2021, a move that the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association is calling it a step in the right direction.

To ease some of the financial burden on the bar and restaurant industry, which has been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the board voted 2-1 to forgive approximately $27.7 million in license fees next year.

Chuck Moran, executive director of the PLBTA said the waiver was something the association has been requesting as part of a larger industry survival and recovery package. However, he said, the impact of the fee waiver would not be significant.

“While waiving certain licensing fees won’t bring that much financial relief, it is a matter of principle to help those who are able to survive until then,” he said.

He called the fee waiver one piece of the puzzle for the industry’s recovery.

“Clearly, more needs to be done to help small business taverns and licensed restaurants that have sacrificed the most of any industry during this pandemic. They have been the tip of the spear in this battle since day one, and have played an important role to first flatten the curve and later getting school children back in class,” he said.

The board said license and permit fees for such things as renewal fees and amusement permits and Sunday sales permits, which range from $30 to $700 each, are among those waived.

So are safekeeping extension fees, which start at $5,000 or $10,000 per year depending on the county. Those allow a licensee to preserve an inactive license beyond two years.

The board noted that while these license fees will be waived through 2021, licensees will still be required to timely file validation and renewal applications to keep licensees current and to avoid late-filing fees. The PLCB also said that it will require licensees to file all documents and pay all fees necessary to bring their license up to date for 2020 by Dec. 31.

License fees that will continue to be collected in 2021 include those associated with wine expanded permit applications and renewals, direct wine shipper licenses, change of ownership and/or location of a license, application fees for new licenses, fees associated with a licensee’s change of officers/managers and extension of licensed premises.

The board noted that certain businesses less impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, including manufacturers, beer distributors and transporters for hire will still be required to pay license fees in 2021.

Board member Mike Negra was the lone no vote for the waiver. He did not support the waiver because he felt the board did not have the authority to waive fees.

“This fee waiver is the equivalent of the PLCB legislating, rather than administering current law, and legislating is the role of the Pennsylvania Senate, House and Governor,” he said.

Restaurant industry hails senate vote easing COVID-19 restrictions

The battle over COVID-19 restaurant rules isn’t over.

The Pennsylvania Senate voted 43-6 Tuesday in favor of House Bill 2513, which would ease the state’s mitigation efforts for establishments with liquor licenses.

The bill mostly reverts to rules that were in place before stricter rules were enacted July 15 in the wake of a spike in COVID-19 cases as well as well as new regulations that were enacted Monday.

The bill would strip away measures that ban bar seating, tie alcohol sales to meals and would eliminate the Governor’s self-certification program. In its current form the ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages after 11 p.m., which began Monday, would stay in place.

The original 50% seating capacity, mask wearing rules, social distancing and other sanitation requirements of the original orders would also be maintained.

The state House of Representatives still needs to vote on concurrence, but representatives of the industry are calling it a step in the right direction.

“HB 2513 is a safe step in the right direction. It takes into consideration a balance of COVID safety measures and business survival needs,” said Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association. “The industry has played and continues to play its role in the COVID-19 battle. It has been the tip of the spear since day one of the battle, and has sacrificed the most of any industry. Industry casualties are mounting as more establishments close their doors and employees lose their jobs. The industry and its employees desperately need this type of help.”

Harrisburg Restaurateur, Jen Fertenbaugh, co-owner of Café Fresco Center City and Level 2 also thanked senators for the bi-partisan support of the bill.

“This measure is a reasonable compromise. It’s a step forward to get us back on track, preserves public health and the potential for our bars and restaurants to weather this pandemic while researchers find a vaccine,” She said.
If the house concurs the bill would head to the governor’s desk.