Here’s the new fight over cocktails-to-go. How is it like the old one? | Monday Morning Coffee

State Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, will try again to make adult sippy cups the law of the land

January 31, 2022 7:12 am

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

If there was one thing that kept Pennsylvanians sane during those dark early days of the pandemic — besides sourdough starters — it was the advent of cocktails-to-go.

With bars and restaurants shuttered and Pennsylvania’s state-owned liquor stores selling booze via an online system as comically ineffective as one of those I-nators so dear to Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz from Phineas & Ferb, the temporary authorization of cocktails-to-go was a lifeline for businesses and consumers alike.

But that authorization was tied to the Wolf administration’s COVID-19 emergency declaration. And when that went away, the legal basis for the adult sippy cups went with them.

A bill to make them permanent sailed through the House last year and seemed on the fast-track to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk until it was unexpectedly diverted to the Senate Law & Justice Committee chaired by Sen. Mike Regan, R-York. Despite its popularity, the bill has been marooned in the Senate Rules Committee since last June.

Enter state Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, who announced late last week that he and Sen. John Yudichak, I-Luzerneplan to take another run at permanently legalizing cocktails-to-go in the commonwealth.

“This legislation will give restaurants and bars an opportunity to maintain cash flow and expand offerings, aiding them in their recovery,” Laughlin said in a statement, adding that he was moved to act after a recent Senate hearing where lawmakers were told that many businesses were still struggling to rebound from the pandemic.

Sen. Mike Regan, R-York, speaks during a Senate Education Committee hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. (Screenshot)

The bigger issue here, of course, is whether this new proposal will avoid the fate of its predecessor. That’s an open question. And explaining why that’s so hard … well, I know it’s early … but you’d better pour yourself a drink.

As the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso and Marley Parish reported last summer, a bizarre confluence of factors including a debate over concoctions known as canned cocktails, where to sell them, and the existence of a guy named Sourbeer, helped derail the first attempt at the permanent authorization of cocktails-to-go.

In short, Regan wanted to amend the authorization bill the House approved  last year to allow grocery stores, beer distributors, convenience stores and bars to sell canned cocktails, such as pre-made margaritas and piña coladas. Under current law, however, only the state liquor store system can sell those drinks, the Capital-Star reported at the time.

And that was one shot too many for Local 1776 of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, which represents state store workers, and zealously protects against any incursions on its turf.

“What Mike Regan is doing is collaborating with the supermarket industry and convenience store industry…to expand these cocktails in an industry which has nothing to do with restaurants,” Local 1776 President Wendell Young told the Capital-Star last year.

The canned cocktails are a money-maker for the state store system as well. In testimony before Regan’s panel, officials reported $23.8 million in revenue for the 2019-20 budget year. By June of last year, the board had reported $31.7 million in sales.

Regan, however, remained adamant, which led Young to speculate on his motives. As it turned out, one of the principals in a Harrisburg-based beer distributor, Frank Sourbeer, was a Regan donor, and served as the co-chair of his first Senate campaign, the Capital-Star learned last year. Aides to Regan, as you might expect, denied any nexus.

In any case, such is the political landscape that Laughlin heads into with his latest proposal.

In a statement his office issued Friday, Laughlin stressed the economic benefits that cocktails-to-go had brought to other states.

“According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, 33 states adopted alcohol-to-go programs in the early days of COVID-19, with 16 of those states making their programs permanent, while another 15 have provided extended approval to their programs,” Laughlin’s office said in its statement.

“Across Pennsylvania’s borders, New York’s governor has urged making drinks-to-go permanent, while New Jersey lawmakers approved legislation last year allowing local governments to authorize cocktails-to-go,” the statement reads.

But if peer pressure was a thing for the General Assembly, Pennsylvania would have hiked its minimum wage years ago, and would stand as the Athens of the mid-Atlantic, looked to as an ideal of policy enlightenment and forward-thinking.

But instead, y’know … election investigations …

But Laughlin, bless him, is apparently undeterred.

“We need to continue supporting our businesses in Pennsylvania, giving them additional options to help them recover and avoid permanent closure. This legislation will do that,” he said.

Another round, anyone?

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

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En la Estrella-Capital: La administración de WolfDennis Davin, secretario del DCEDrenunciará el mes que viene. Y Pa. está lista para ver $1B del acuerdo nacional sobre opioides, con la firma de los 67 condados.

On our Commentary Page this morning: Opinion regular Dick Polman explains how our nationwide vaccine debate has basically turned into an episode of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm.’ And if you were wondering where all the substitute teachers had gone, two SUNY-Binghamton scholars have some answers for you.

(Image via Getty Images)

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A Lehigh Valley business owner is among those who have been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee in connection with the fake elector documents, the Morning Call reports.

Seventeen state historical markers have gone missing in northeastern Pennsylvania, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

The average Philadelphia water main is 76 years old and the city has seen an average of more than 175 breaks in January, BillyPenn reports.

More funding for mental health services tops the list of budgetary priorities for Pennsylvania’s county commissioners this year, WITF-FM reports.

Three hundred union workers at Washington Hospital have voted to authorize a strike, the Observer-Reporter reports.

Congressional Democrats are considering how much of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda to build back into the budget billRoll Call reports.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:

What Goes On
The House and Senate are out of session until Feb. 7.
2 p.m., Penn State Innovation Hub Building: House Democratic Policy Committee

Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes go out this morning to Emily Walker, of Senate Democrats; Jim MacMillan, of the Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence ReportingMatt Maisel, of FOX-43 in York, and Janet Pickel, of PennLive, all of whom celebrated on Sunday. Additional belated best wishes to Tom Brier, of Hershey, and Christina Kristofic, of The Keystone, who celebrated on Saturday. Up-to-date best wishes go out to our old friend, Pete Palladino, lead singer of central Pa. rock stalwarts, The Badlees, who completes another trip around the sun today. Congratulations all around.

Heavy Rotation
I’ve always loved it when bands release the demo versions of their best loved songs. In almost every instance, these bits of sonic architecture illuminate something about the finished version of the tune. Here’s one from veteran English art-poppers Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark, it’s the demo version of their 1981 hit ‘Souvenir,’ from the utterly brilliant ‘Architecture and Morality‘ LP.

Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
The Carolina Hurricanes won another at home on Sunday, beating the visiting San Jose Sharks 2-1 at PNC Bank Center. The ‘Canes sit atop the Metropolitan Division, two points clear of the second place New York Rangers.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.