You May Soon Be Able to Buy Wine in Pa. Grocery Stores

Gov. Wolf said he will “conduct a final review of the legislation” before he decides whether to sign it.

Wine for sale in grocery store

This may soon be a reality in Pennsylvania. (Photo by Dannielle Blumenthal, used under a Creative Commons license)

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has passed a bill that would allow some grocery stores, restaurants and hotels to sell take-out wine.

House Bill 1690 passed in a 157-31 vote. It permits restaurants, hotels and grocery stores with existing licenses to also sell wine for consumption off the premises. Up to four bottles will be able to be purchased at a time.

“This is a very significant step for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in terms of privatization,” House Speaker Rep. Mike Turzai, a Republican, told reporters after the vote. “I’m very excited, I have to tell you. This is outstanding. It’s a historic opportunity today, and I think the governor’s going to sign it.”

The House and Senate passed a bill last year that would have phased out the state store system, with Wine and Spirits stores closing as private stores selling wine and liquor opened. Wolf vetoed it. He released a statement on the new bill’s passage today.

“Today the House concurred with the Senate on historic liquor modernization legislation that provides greater customer convenience to the people of Pennsylvania,” Wolf said in the statement. “As I have always said, my goal is to modernize the sale of liquor and beer in Pennsylvania to ensure convenience and satisfaction for customers. Once the bill reaches my desk, I will conduct a final review of the legislation to ensure it meets my goals of enhancing the customer experience, increasing much-needed revenue to help balance our budget, and bringing our wine and spirits system into the 21st century.” He did not indicate if he would sign the bill.

The Senate passed the bill last year, but Republicans in the House refused to vote on it because it didn’t privatize the entire system. It was unexpectedly taken up again today. Republicans said it was just the beginning of getting the state out of the liquor sales business. “This is the first step to killing the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and the Republicans know it,” Wendell Young IV, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, told The Morning Call.

Though the legislation was spearheaded by Turzai, Democrats voted for the bill as well. “This legislation will allow wine to be sold in more places, including grocery stores that already sell beer, and it will give more flexibility to the Liquor Control Board to set prices and store hours across the state in ways that are better for consumers,” Democratic Leader Frank Dermody said in a release.

Liquor Control Committee Democratic Chairman Paul Costa also supported the bill, which he said would bring in additional revenue to the state. “With this legislation, we’re taking the initiative to modernize the system so it works better for consumers while protecting nearly 5,000 existing jobs of the men and women who work in wine and spirits shops in every part of the state,” he said.

Dave Reed, a Republican, told PennLive the additional sales were expected to bring in $150 million for the state. The site also reported Philadelphia’s Rosita Youngblood, a Democrat, voted against the measure in the rules committee because she believed it would “would result in three or four stores selling alcohol on some blocks of her city.”

In past years, including 2015, Republican lawmakers have attempted to tie liquor privatization to a budget deal that included a schools funding increase and pension reform. This bill doesn’t appear to be part of such a scenario.

In addition to allowing some stores to sell take-out wine, the bill lets casinos serve alcohol 24/7, and expands loyalty and discount programs at state-run liquor stores. It also permits direct shipment of wine to Pennsylvania residences, and allows state stores to be open on holidays.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.