HARRISBURG, Penn. - The Pennsylvania House of Representatives began talking about a measure that would transfer control of wine and liquor from the state to private businesses, the Associated Press reports. But House Speaker Sam Smith shut down the debate, which might continue this week.
It was the first time in close to 80 years that lawmakers discussed ending state control on alcohol. Majority Leader Mike Turzai proposed the liquor privatization bill, which would replace the 620 state-owned stores with up to 1,600 privately run locations. His original measure was tossed out by a committee in December.
His bill would give more than 1,000 beer distributors would get first crack at retail wine and liquor licenses. Those licenses not purchased by distributors would be offered at public auction. The amendment also would allow distributors to sell six-packs of beer, which they currently cannot, and would give grocery stores and taverns more options for takeout beer selections.
Rep. Kate Harper said state residents "have been around. They've been to New Jersey. They've been to Delaware. They know that states just like ours don't have state-run alcohol stores. ...Our constituents want us out of the [liquor] business."
Unions oppose the bill, claiming the state can better collect taxes, monitor underage sales, and provide a better selection of liquor than private businesses. For right now, the bill seems set to be shelved until after summer recess, especially in light of the state Senate saying it will not move on privatization until the fall.
Washington state supermarkets opened for business June 1 after that state privatized its liquor sales. Costco, which threw a lot of money behind the Washington privatization effort, indicated earlier this year that it would sit out similar movements in Oregon and Idaho.