Legislature approves expanded 'happy hour' bill

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HARRISBURG -- Last call for happy hour specials soon can be a little later thanks to state Rep. John Payne who ginned up enough support in the Legislature for a bill providing more flexibility for bar owners.

The House, in a 174-24 vote this afternoon, sent to Gov. Tom Corbett a bill that would allow bars to offer happy-hour specials up to four hours per day, not to exceed 14 hours per week. Current law limits happy hours to two hours per day.

The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved the bill.

Proposed by Rep. John Payne, R-Dauphin, the bill also would allow restaurants with liquor licenses to serve spirits at catered functions off the premises.

A previous version of the bill already had been approved by the House, but was amended by the Senate to incorporate a requirement for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to hire a compliance officer to investigate claims that licenses are selling unregistered malt beverages.

The Senate amendment also removes a two-year residency requirement for applicants for manufacturing and distribution licenses. It also creates a $250 annual permit for limited wineries to sell their products at five satellite locations and an unlimited number of farmers markets throughout the year, provided they operate at only one market at a time.

"This is one of those bills where everybody gets a little bit of something," said Kevin Joyce, past president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association. "Unfortunately, the one piece that I wanted most is the one that didn't make it in the final bill."

That piece would have allowed restaurant customers to buy up to three bottles of wine to take home. Mr. Joyce said that was important for his customers at The Carlton in Downtown Pittsburgh, which has 600 bottles on its wine list, most of which aren't available off the shelf in state stores.

"Hopefully, that will find its way into another bill at some point. Overall, we're gratified for the cooperative spirit that created this bill," he said. "The ability to let liquor licenses travel for catering was important to us, and it's been a goal of the taverns for a long time to be able to create a four-hour happy hour around a sporting event."

Corbett spokesman Eric Shirk said the governor is expected to sign the bill into law. The happy hour provisions become effective when he does.

Harrisburg Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: 717-787-2141 or tmauriello@post-gazette.com.


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