Beer distributors get first dibs in Pa. liquor bill overhaul

March 18, 2013 2:26:44 PM PDT
A legislative panel on Monday endorsed a revamped version of Gov. Tom Corbett's liquor privatization bill that would give existing beer distributors first crack at liquor and wine licenses and expand beer and wine sales to grocery stores.

In a 14-10 party-line vote, the House Liquor Committee backed a bill that would potentially phase out the existing state-controlled stores as the number of private operators grows.

Both the GOP governor and Rep. John Taylor, the Philadelphia Republican who chairs the committee, called the amendment a "first step" that would lead to scrutiny of the complicated legislation not only on the House floor but in the Senate.

Minority Democrats pushed unsuccessfully for additional public hearings before any committee vote.

"I just think there are way too many questions on this particular bill," said Rep. Paul Costa, D-Allegheny, the panel's ranking Democrat.

Under the bill, the state's 1,200 beer distributors would be given one year to decide whether they wanted to buy a license to sell wine, a liquor license or both. Fees for wine licenses would range up to $37,500 and to as much as $60,000 for liquor licenses.

After that, the remaining licenses - plus as many 600 additional licenses, at the discretion of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board - would be offered to other buyers on a first-come-first-served basis and at much higher fees.

The 600 state stores would be gradually reduced as the number of licensees in each county grows.

All the state stores in any county would be closed once the total number of alcoholic-beverage licenses - liquor, wine and a proposed beer-and-wine license for grocery stores - reaches twice the number of state stores.

If the number of state stores falls below 100 statewide, they all would be closed.