HARRISBURG - All work and no play a dull political convention make.
Few understand that better than state legislators, who on Monday took the first step to grant Philadelphia-area hotels, restaurants, bars, and other venues hosting events for the Democratic National Convention what amounts to a four-day reprieve from Pennsylvania's stringent - some say antiquated - liquor laws.
A bill that passed a key Senate committee would allow those businesses to apply for a special permit to extend serving hours past the current 2 a.m. last call.
The legislation also would let them temporarily circumvent the strict and costly requirement that all wine and liquor be purchased from the State Stores, which slap products with an automatic markup and various taxes. (Much of the liquor at big events like political conventions is donated.)
"If you're the delegation from Texas, you're bringing in your Texas booze," said Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R., Bucks), who chairs the committee that oversees liquor matters. It unanimously approved the bill, sending it to the full Senate.
He added: "If you're going to host all the other states - like, 'Massachusetts, come try some of our great Texas booze!' - we're not going to put it in our liquor stores for four days and then sell it to them and then have to be stuck with it. Bring your booze, have it at your party, enjoy yourself responsibly, and then go home."
If passed by the Senate, as soon as this week, the measure would head to the House for approval.
McIlhinney noted that a similar waiver was granted to venues hosting events during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000. This year's Democratic convention is expected to attract up to 50,000 people, according to event organizers.
Under the bill, host venues could apply to the Liquor Control Board for a so-called National Event Permit - the application fee is $5,000 - and the board would then decide whether to approve it.
The legislation does not extend last call by a specific time. Instead, state officials said, businesses seeking the permit could ask in their application for a specific extension. Cleveland, for instance, which is hosting this year's Republican National Convention, allowed local businesses to apply for waivers to stretch last call to 4 a.m.
The National Event Permit would apply only between July 25 and 28, the opening and closing dates of the convention. Just as Cinderella's carriage turned into a pumpkin after the ball, Pennsylvania's liquor laws would revert to normal after the convention.