The Lead

‘We are running out of time.’ Senate advances legislation to make to-go cocktails permanent

By: - June 16, 2021 3:15 pm

Pennsylvania Senate Chambers. Source: WikiMedia Commons

Gov. Tom Wolf said he would veto a bill that would allow thousands of retailers to sell canned alcoholic drinks, but that didn’t stop the Senate from pushing through legislation that would also make to-go cocktails a permanent menu item in Pennsylvania.

In a 26-24 vote, the Republican-controlled chamber approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Kurt Masser, R-Northumberland, that would make what was originally a temporary lifeline for businesses permanent; however, it was amended to include canned alcoholic beverages, also called “ready-to-drink” beverages.

Wolf urged lawmakers to send a “clean” bill to his desk on Tuesday, which is when the provisions expired, but after the legislation was amended in committee to include language backed by Sen. Mike Regan, R-York, to allow the sale of canned alcoholic beverages, which currently are controlled by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, the governor voiced opposition.

Senate Democrats echoed similar concerns during a floor debate, saying that privatizing the sale of canned beverages could eat into state sales. Instead, lawmakers suggested taking up the proposal in a stand-alone bill.

But Regan, the chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, which has oversight on liquor issues, said the amendment “went a step further” to expand the market and address challenges facing businesses coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association initially opposed the amendment but changed course one day later by sending a letter to all state senators that asked for an affirmative vote on the legislation.

“The Senate Law and Justice Committee yesterday considered the bill and supported an amendment that incorporates a broad array of PRLA’s recovery provisions and ready-to-drink canned cocktails,” the trade group wrote to lawmakers. “Both are items that PRLA supports — albeit in the past, we preferred them to move separately. That has changed — we are running out of time and need to get a bill to the governor as soon as possible.”

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