Token reform: The House wine shipment bill is little progress

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When it comes to alcohol sales, the Pennsylvania Legislature makes about as much sense as a drinker who has had a few too many.

The same House members who failed to approve a plan to privatize the state's liquor store monopoly passed a separate measure that would allow customers to purchase wine directly from out-of-state vineyards and have it shipped to their homes. It's hard to reconcile those two positions.

Take the view of Wilkins Rep. Paul Costa who, like the rest of his Democratic colleagues, doesn't want to take Pennsylvania out of the alcohol business, even though doing so would open up the state's retail market to hundreds of private owners. Nonetheless, Mr. Costa said he favors allowing the direct shipments because doing so would help small businesses, the state's independent wineries.

Likewise, the head of the union that represents the state's Liquor Control Board employees said the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 -- naturally, the most adamant opponent of privatization -- supports the shipment measure because it is a way to better serve the state's consumers. Never mind that consumers have been saying what they want for years, and it is not a piecemeal approach.

Pennsylvanians want to be able to purchase beer, wine and liquor without having to make trips to multiple stores. They want to be able to buy beer by the six-pack, if they don't need a whole case, in many more places. They want to be able to buy wine at convenient locations, like supermarkets or restaurants. And if they are lucky enough to visit a vineyard outside Pennsylvania or simply learn about a wine they'd like to try, they want to have the option of having it sent home without ordering through the local LCB store.

Yes, House Bill 121 would provide for the latter, but consumers want more. One fear is that the measure, passed by a vote of 200-1, is merely an attempt to mollify some of the state liquor monopoly's critics -- count the Post-Gazette among them -- and avoid moving forward with the dismantling of Pennsylvania's outmoded system.

State senators are expected to take up the issue of liquor laws in the fall. When they do, they should keep in mind that Pennsylvanians won't be satisfied with a mere taste of reform. They want the full measure.

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