After more than two hours of strong debate, the Pennsylvania House Liquor Control Committee has approved a plan to privatize the commonwealth’s liquor system.
Republican Representative John Taylor chairs the panel and presided over questions and answers on an amendment that would scale back Governor Tom Corbett’s privatization plan.
The 14-10 vote fell along party lines.
The amendment would allow 1,200 wine and liquor licenses to first go to beer distributors, but it does not call for shuttering all state wine and liquor stores. Instead, the amendment allows for a phasing-out of the more than 600 state stores.
“As we wind down stores through the addition of private licensees, when we get to the point where there’s only 100, then the entire system would shut down,” Taylor said of the plan.
The amended version is, in part, an attempt to placate beer distributors, who opposed the governor’s plan to charge them steeper licensing fees and open up wine and liquor sales to big-box retailers. The measure would also allow them to sell smaller packages of beer and would allow for special permits for Sunday sale of wine and liquor.
State Representative Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny County) was among a group of Democrats on the committee arguing they hadn’t had enough time to review the amendment. He called for a public hearing on the matter but was ready to settle for some high-spirited debate.
“[Y]ou’re not going to have a public hearing, so we should at least have a public discussion,” bemoaned Wheatley to the chair of the committee.
Taylor responded by asking Democrats to bring something new to the debate.
“The something new is, how do we have a conversation with folk?” answered Wheatley. “We got an amendment on Friday to vote it on Monday. And you’re saying that there’s no need to have public discussions.”
Republicans say the issue of liquor privatization has been debated long enough in past failed efforts.
Corbett's spokesman praised the vote and called the amended bill a good compromise.