Liquor hearings, round 2

 

Another day, another hearing on liquor privatization.

Starting at 1 p.m. Tuesday, the Senate Law and Justice Committee will hold the second of three hearings on a hotly-contested bill to privatize the sale of wine and hard liquor in Pennsylvania.

On the lineup to discuss the pros and cons this time around: the folks who sell the goods. Expect to hear from representatives from the beer, wine and supermarket industries, including Wegmans and the association that represents beer distributors in the state.

But don't expect them to agree.

For decades now, retailers have been ferociously split over who should be allowed to sell alcohol, particularly when it comes to beer. As it stands now, you can purchase beer by the case (or keg) from a beer distributor, or buy up to two six-packs (usually at a steeply marked-up price) at a bar. More recently, a few select supermarkets in the state (re: Wegmans) have applied for a license to sell up to two six-packs to-go as well.

But legislators are considering ways to make beer - and wine - more accessible to the consumer. And from a retail perspective, the stakes are high while a consensus remains elusive.

The first Senate hearing, earlier this month, focused on the impact privatization would have on public health and law enforcement. Several witnesses, including those who work in drug and alcohol prevention, testified that privatizing would lead to more liquor outlets, more drinking, and more alcohol-related crime and violence. The last hearing will be in early June, where members of Gov. Corbett's administration, who are pushing hard for privatization, are expected to make their case.

After the hearings, Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R., Bucks), who chairs the Law and Justice Committee, has said he expects to draft his privatization plan. But even that will likely not be the final version. The decision will come down to hard-nosed negotiating - behind closed doors -- between Corbett and legislative leaders, even as they try to strike a deal on a state budget by July 1. 

 

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