The options in Pennsylvania for people to buy wine and beer from private retailers would expand under a bill approved Tuesday by a state House panel that also would keep the state-controlled liquor stores open.
Republicans, who supported the bill in a party-line vote, called it the only privatization legislation that has won a committee vote in Pennsylvania since Prohibition. But it represents a radical departure from the objectives of the House Republican floor leader and Republican Gov. Tom Corbett to shut down the state stores and auction wine and liquor sales licenses to big-box retailers and other private operators.
Prospects for the bill aren't clear in the full House, and a raft of proposed amendments are expected to emerge on a topic that has proven about as complicated as any for the Legislature.
Liquor Control Committee Chairman John Taylor, R-Philadelphia, defended the bill as a better transition to a private market than Corbett's idea because it would allow good stores to thrive without costing the job of people who work at the state liquor stores.
"On paper, this looks to be `privatization-lite,'" Taylor said. "If you play it out, it's much more significant in terms of what will happen after this is passed. ... I think you'll have a hybrid approach in terms of the retail market, as well. You'll have a Total Wine in Pennsylvania, you'll have mom-and-pop operations, you'll have supermarkets with this ability to do it and I think that's significant enough without doing damage. So I think we've increased the opportunities without putting people at risk."
Under the bill, restaurants, bars and beer distributors could sell beer in a wider variety of quantities. Beer distributors could get licenses to sell wine and wine wholesalers could compete with the state Liquor Control Board. Meanwhile, state liquor stores would remain the only licensees that could sell hard liquor, and the state Liquor Control Board would get more power over purchasing, pricing and setting the hours that its stores can operate, including opening more stores on Sunday.
Taylor also said he would expect some beer distributors to sell their licenses to supermarkets or other retailers that want to attach a beer and wine store.