We now have a date.
The first of what will likely be three Senate hearings on a controversial bill to privatize Pennsylvania's government-run wine and liquor stores has been scheduled for Tuesday of next week (April 30) in the Capitol - and it is bound to be telling.
It is no secret that the bill has few ardent fans in the Senate, where Republicans who control the chamber have strongly signaled they are leaning toward modernizing, rather than privatizing, the current state-store system.
The hearings, before the Senate Law and Justice Committee, are bound to provide the first glimpse into just how hard it will be to move liquor privatization closer to the finish line.
The bill that passed the House last month in an historic vote is a toned-down version of a bolder, more aggressive privatization plan Gov. Corbett had proposed earlier this year. But the administration nonetheless supports it and is lobbying hard for it.
As it's now written, the legislation calls for gradually selling off licenses to private entrepreneurs, starting with beer distributors, and eventually closing the 600-plus State Stores. Still, it leaves the door open for state stores in some counties to continue operating.
Democrats (and even some more conservative Republicans) have condemned the bill, warning that increased access to alcohol would lead to increased drinking and all the social ills that come with it. They have also noted repeatedly that privatization would cost 3,500 State Store clerks their jobs.
They have also disputed Republican estimates that the proposed selling of liquor licenses would generate $800 million, which Corbett has said he wants to direct to public schools for early-childhood education, school safety, individual learning, and science, technology, engineering, and math programs.
The first Senate committee hearing will be on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in the Capitol; the second is scheduled for May 14th, also in the Capitol.
What changes senators on the Law and Justice committee may make remains a question.
But this might give some idea of the direction they could take: Sen. Chuck McIlhinney Jr. (R., Bucks), who chairs the Law and Justice committee, has a bill that would, among other things, let beer retailers buy a special license to sell wine and liquor; it would keep the state in the retail and wholesale liquor business.
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