House's Liquor Plan Due for Lukewarm Reception in Senate
State House lawmakers have finally passed a liquor privatization proposal, building on more than two years of discussions and a concerted push from the governor’s office.
The measure was shepherded through the wilds of the 203-member House, where Republicans with a variety of reservations about increasing access to alcohol and hurting beer sellers had to be won over.
Now the measure is headed to the Senate, and once again there will be challenges.
“I don’t think anyone expects the Senate to simply take up the House bill and move it to the governor’s desk as is,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi. “I don’t even think the proponents of the bill in the House think that.”
Some of the top members of the GOP caucus have long said they prefer trying to provide more customer convenience in the state wine and spirits stores instead of phasing them out of existence.
The Senate’s President Pro Tem, Joe Scarnati, has said he would rather pursue changes to make the stores more profitable. Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, chairman of the Senate committee overseeing liquor laws, has proposed a plan designed to accomplish such a goal by creating a private wine and liquor license and allowing beer distributors to obtain such licenses.
According to Pileggi, the caucus hasn’t discussed whether it would support a plan like the one that’s come over from the House. He does expect some action – at least in the way of hearings – within the next two months.
But one of the main ideological arguments driving the liquor privatization discussion in the House – getting government out of the business of selling alcohol – is not likely to be popular in the Senate.
“What people in my district want and people across Pennsylvania want is improvement in the selection, price and convenience over what we have now in the purchase and sale of beer, wine and liquor," Pileggi said. "And that’s really what our focus should be.
“This shouldn’t be ideological; this shouldn’t be in the search of a lump sum. It should be focusing on what the citizens of Pennsylvania want.”