Two local legislators voiced their support on a liquor store privatization bill that they say would get government out of the state's liquor monopoly.
State Representatives Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) and Jerry Knowles (R-Berks/Schuylkill) voted in favor of House Bill 790, which would create about 1,200 state liquor licenses that would be auctioned off and Pennsylvania liquor stores would close.
The bill now goes to the Senate for a vote.
"The current state-run system for selling alcohol in Pennsylvania is antiquated," Heffley said. "Throughout history, privately-owned businesses and capitalism has always proven to provide better prices, services and selection far superior to any bureaucratic monopoly."
He added, "Our locally-owned small businesses, bars, restaurants and distributorships have proven to be capable of selling alcohol in a responsible manner. Pennsylvania and Utah are currently the only two states in the country still adhering to this type of state-run system."
Heffley said under this legislation, grocery store wine licenses and wine-to-go permits would also be created. Beer would only be available for purchase in grocery stores that possess a restaurant license.
Furthermore, this bill would also allow consumers to purchase growlers, six-packs or 12-packs at beer distributorships.
Under current law, only full cases of beer may be purchased from distributors. The only way to act as a "one-stop shop" for beer, wine and spirits is to be a beer distributor and obtain a wine and spirits license. Any wine and spirits licenses purchased by an unlicensed entity will not include the sale of beer.
To maintain the safety of all residents across the commonwealth, this legislation would increase monetary penalties for all liquor violations, require all new licensees to use an ID scanner before selling alcohol, and increase funding for the state police's Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement. Also, to help guarantee that minors are not purchasing wine, House Bill 790 would forbid customers purchasing wine in a grocery store from using the self-checkout lane.
Measures under this legislation would help displaced state liquor store employees with finding new jobs, by providing tax incentives to businesses that hire former state store employees, as well as providing them with unemployment compensation and grants for education.
"After hosting several meetings in my district, in which beer distributors and restaurant owners expressed their concerns of this legislation, I voted in favor of this bill because after careful review, I am confident that their initial apprehensions have been addressed," said Heffley.
Knowles remarked, "It has long been my belief that the sale and promotion of wine and liquor is not a core and essential service of government. In recent years, the state has spent millions on the marketing and promotion of products, the same products in which they regulate. I don't see how anyone cannot see that as anything other than a conflict of interest.
"House Bill 790 cuts the tie between government and the booze business," he said, "and provides Pennsylvania with the opportunity to take a step into the 21st century. It lets the private-sector do what it does best sell their product. This bill would also strengthen law enforcement supervision of sales and enhance alcohol safety and awareness programs from buyers and sellers."
Knowles said, "Under this plan, beer distributors get first dibs on licenses to sell all three types of alcohol: beer, liquor, and wine. With that license, they would be the only facilities in the state able to be a true, 'one-stop shop,' for any alcohol the customer desires to purchase."