Legislators explain votes on privatizing liquor sales in state

Local state House of Representatives were split down party lines when it came to voting for privatization of Pennsylvania’s alcohol sales reforms.

House Bill 790, which passed by a margin of 105 to 90 last week, would get the state out of the business of selling wines and spirits while opening up additional retail venues for those items at privately-operated stores. The legislation would allow privately-run beer distributors to sell smaller quantities of beer and the ability to sell wines and liquor if they purchase a new license to do so.

The plan calls for state-run liquor stores eventually to be phased out as new private retailers set up shop.

Not all lawmakers favored the bill, however, including state Reps. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, and Michael K. Hanna Sr., D-Lock Haven.

Mirabito said he voted against the bill because he thought it would have negative impacts on rural residents. He said the price of alcohol actually would increase and that young people would be encouraged to consume more alcohol.

“House Bill 790 creates the paradoxical situation in rural communities of encouraging more consumption of alcohol by young people who should not have it, while increasing the price and reducing the availability and selection for adults who are legally entitled to it,” Mirabito said in a news release.

He also said the state isn’t really getting out alcohol sales.

“There is a myth floating around that passage of this bill successfully takes Pennsylvania out of the liquor business,” Mirabito said. “In reality, the state will still be involved in the liquor business, just in a more complicated way, by issuing many more licenses and encouraging much greater consumption.”

Hanna, who also voted against the bill, said that the state stands to lose money with privitization

“This proposal loses money. As much as $250 million a year of revenue will be lost. All of that on the one-time promise of infusion of capital that is likely not going to happen,” he said in an interview with House Democratic Caucus officials.

Hanna added that those employed at state stores will be deeply affected.

“The human suffering and job losses are incomprehensible,” he said.

State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, voted in favor of the bill and also successfully added an amendment to it that makes sure that larger beer distributors such as Mid-State Beverage, 1805 E. Third St., that both are wholesalers and retailers to be able to sell wines and spirits if they choose to buy a retail license.

“I have received numerous requests from constituents to get this legislation passed,” Everett said. “Residents have been demanding the state get out of the business of selling alcohol and now we are on the doorstep of getting this done.”

State Rep. Matthew E. Baker, R-Wellsboro, initially did not support privitization of alcohol sales, but voted for House Bill 790 because it strengthens public safety and law enforcement, he said.

The legislation includes mandates for retailers to verify buyers’ age by “swipe card technology” and for state police to be more active in liquor control enforcement efforts.

House Bill 790 now moves to the Senate for committee debate.