Alcohol sales overhaul passes state senate on party lines

     A customer browses the liquor Seattle, Wa. shortly after that state privatized liquor sales in 2012. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

    A customer browses the liquor Seattle, Wa. shortly after that state privatized liquor sales in 2012. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

    After days of negotiations, a plan to expand alcohol sales in Pennsylvania has the preliminary approval of the state Senate.

    An amended proposal passed the chamber along party lines in the wee hours Saturday morning, with all 27 Republicans voting in its favor (the Senate voted to override its 11 p.m. curfew to pass the bill).

    The proposal must clear another full Senate vote before it goes back to the House.

    “Now it’s moving towards the House and it’s my hope that they will take the bill and move the bill to the governor’s desk,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi. Neither he nor one of the proposal’s authors, Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks), expected major changes to the plan or the vote count before final passage in the Senate.

    Democrats, opposed to anything beyond making the state system more profitable, called the amendment confusing and poorly constructed. They spoke out against making alcohol more accessible and closing stores that provide jobs with benefits.

    The plan would allow beer distributors to add wine and liquor to their shelves. It would let grocery stores with cafes to sell beer and wine, and certain gas stations and convenience stores to sell beer. It provides a formula by which state stores should be shut down. It does not privatize the state’s wholesale wine and liquor system, but sets up a process by which it could be leased.

    The proposal’s passage, albeit preliminary, means one of Gov. Corbett’s top legislative agenda items is still alive as lawmakers head into a long weekend to finalize the state budget by the end of the night on June 30.

    Republican senators said Corbett’s office was kept apprised of negotiations as they scrounged to find a majority to pass the bill, knowing they wouldn’t have any Democrats supporting it. But after the 1:20 a.m. Saturday vote, they also said they weren’t sure how the proposal would be received by the House GOP, where Majority Leader Mike Turzai has said liquor privatization should include a formula for shutting down state stores and a sale of the state’s wholesale wine and liquor system.

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