Pa. Senate GOP Seeking Consensus on Liquor Bill

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Republican state senators remained unsure Monday whether they will vote for legislation that one of their members is writing to liberalize the sale of wine, beer and hard liquor in Pennsylvania, a key priority of Gov. Tom Corbett.

Bucks County Sen. Charles McIlhinney is expected to unveil the legislation Tuesday, Republican senators said. But the details of what he will show his GOP colleagues are unsettled and votes will likely depend on what they see.

Sen. John Gordner, R-Lycoming, said there are a number of "movable parts" in what McIlhinney is writing and the way he handles those issues will probably determine how Gordner votes.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said he has no indication that any of the Senate's 23 Democrats will vote for a bill that privatizes the state-controlled sale of wine and liquor. And even after lengthy closed-door discussions among Republican senators, he said that there is no consensus among the 27 Republicans that is big enough to ensure passage of a bill.

However, much of the discussion among Republican senators has been about how any changes will affect Pennsylvania's beer distributors and breweries, Scarnati said, not the privatization of the wine and liquor sales that Corbett has set atop his legislative priorities.

Corbett is pressing for action on legislation to privatize the state's wine and liquor system by July 1, when lawmakers traditionally depart Harrisburg for the summer. The House approved a bill in March, but it lacks support in the Senate.

McIlhinney has said he is leaning toward a plan that would allow the state's approximately 12,000 existing private retail beer licensees — eateries, bars and distributors, as well as supermarkets or convenience stores with a restaurant-style beer license — to buy licenses to sell wine and liquor.

He also has suggested a willingness to relax the restaurant-style seating, food and space requirements that supermarkets, convenience stores and other retailers must obey if they want to sell alcoholic beverages — but would not increase the number of beer retail licenses available. Meanwhile, beer licensees would be free to sell in a wider variety of volumes.

McIlhinney has said his bill would leave it up to the Liquor Control Board to shut down state-controlled liquor and wine stores, a decision that would come down to the price, selection and accessibility that is afforded by private sellers.

However, McIlhinney has sent strong signals that he does not believe the time is right to privatize the lucrative wholesale end of the state's operations, even though Corbett and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, have insisted on legislation that sells it off.