Just in time for sultry summer evenings that could have been brightened by a mojito or two from the corner bar, the Pennsylvania Senate on Friday did not act on legislation — passed Thursday in the House — that would have permanently allowed cocktails-to-go.
Supporters of the bill, now believed to be dead until at least the fall, were livid.
“My parents owned a small restaurant, and thousands of my constituents are workers and small business owners in the hospitality industry,” said State Sen. Nikil Saval, a Philadelphia Democrat.
“This attack on their livelihoods is personal to me. I’m outraged that the Republican senators would refuse to vote on the bipartisan legislation passed by the House to make cocktails-to-go permanent and extend outdoor dining,” he said.
The bill also would have allowed extended outside serving areas, which have filled sidewalks in Philadelphia with diners and drinkers.
Cocktails-to-go were made legal last year to help restaurants and bars stay afloat when they were largely closed because of COVID-19 precautions, but the liquor code provision allowing them was tied to Gov. Tom Wolf’s coronavirus disaster declaration. Lawmakers voted to end that on June 10, leading the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to shut down that sales channel on June 15.
The sticking point in the Senate was an insistence that the bill allow beer distributors, grocery stores, and other retailers to sell ready-to-drink (RTD) spirits-based cocktails — a move that would loosen the state-run system’s grip on liquor sales. On Thursday, the House Rules Committee unanimously passed an amendment to strip the bill of that language, which Wolf was rumored to staunchly oppose.
The failure of the Senate to act is “disappointing considering the industry is still in recovery mode and that the bill got derailed by an issue (RTDs/liquor privatization) that could have been handled separately. Taverns and restaurants just lost the summer season because of this,” Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, said in a text.