HARRISBURG -- The state House of Representatives debated into the night on Monday about a proposal to privatize the state system of liquor stores.
They reached no vote, but House Republican leaders said it was the first time a measure to end state liquor sales had reached the floor of either chamber.
Republicans spoke in favor of the proposal by Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, to replace the more than 600 state wine and spirit stores with 1,600 retail licenses that would be offered first for sale to beer distributors and then auctioned to the highest bidder. Mr. Turzai argued on the House floor that ending the state sale of liquor would improve availability for consumers and extract the government from a "conflict of interest" in both promoting and regulating alcohol sales.
"This is about moving Pennsylvania out of an area it does not need to be in and focusing instead on those core functions we do best: education, infrastructure, helping those who need it most," he said.
Democrats countered that the state stores maintain good jobs and tight control over liquor sales. Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, worried private liquor stores would congregate in vulnerable neighborhoods.
"They tend to overlocate themselves in neighborhoods that are already afflicted with many other social ills," he said.
The measure calls for allocating the 1,600 licenses to counties based on their population, median household income and alcohol sales. Beer distributors would be allowed to sell six-packs, while bars could sell packages of up to 30 beers.
Democrats expressed concern that some counties would be left without access to liquor and wine if the licenses were not purchased.
"You will sell every license," Mr. Turzai said. "There is no doubt."
In the hours leading to the evening debate, representatives of the United Food and Commercial Workers, the union representing many liquor store employees, walked the Capitol hallways and sat in the rotunda to show their opposition. The union has argued that disbanding the state stores would eliminate thousands of jobs while hurting the quality of alcohol sales.
Gov. Tom Corbett is a supporter of privatizing the liquor system, and he said last week that he is talking with Mr. Turzai about the proposal.
Karen Langley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-717-787-2141. First Published June 12, 2012 12:00 AM