No delivery: Even on a small liquor issue, the Legislature fails
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State lawmakers who have resisted junking Pennsylvania's antiquated liquor control system have argued instead for reforming alcohol sales by taking a piecemeal approach. That's not working out either.
Two bills, one in the Senate and the other in the House, languished for a year and a half despite their very modest goal of making wine purchasing more convenient for consumers and Pennsylvania wineries more competitive with vintners in other states.
State Sen. Jane Earll and Rep. Curt Sonney, both Erie Republicans, proposed allowing consumers who want to buy wine directly from wineries to have the products delivered to their homes, rather than having to pick up their orders at the nearest state liquor store. Currently, wine buyers can get home delivery only if they purchase from a Pennsylvania winery.
The flip side of letting Pennsylvania consumers have their purchases delivered directly is that the state's 140 family-owned wineries then would be able to ship their products directly to buyers in other states -- a boon for those businesses.
Instead, the twisted regulations persist because Pennsylvania has a monopoly on wine and liquor. Private enterprise would not put up such a roadblock between its customers and its products.
Or, as Sen. Earll put it, "It's mind-boggling. Wine consumers should be able to shop conveniently."
The typical arguments that relaxing liquor laws will lead to illegal or excessive consumption hardly seem applicable in this context. Does anyone think underage drinkers are going to start ordering boutique wines by the case and having them shipped to their parents' house or the college dormitory? Even that absurd prospect was addressed in the bills; they would have required firms such as UPS and FedEx to get the recipient's proof of age when delivering the products.
Sen. Earll is retiring next month, but Rep. Sonney said he'll re-introduce his bill in the new legislative session that starts in January. While that would be better than nothing, its prospects for success probably are no better than they were in the last two-year session.
Even if the direct shipping measure becomes law, the larger question will persist: Why is the state of Pennsylvania in the business of retail alcohol sales? On the verge of 2013, eight decades after the repeal of Prohibition, there is still no good answer.
First Published October 31, 2012 12:00 am