Pennsylvanians hoping to enjoy another takeaway margarita got a boost Thursday when the Pennsylvania House voted to approve a bill that would ensure the permanent approval of cocktails to-go. The bill moves back to the Senate on Friday, free of the canned-cocktail amendment that had made it a bone of contention between the Republican-controlled state legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.
“Right now, this is a very favorable bill for taverns and licensed restaurants of all sizes,” said Chuck Moran of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association. “We’re encouraging the Senate, just pass this bill as is. We’re still in recovery mode. We don’t want to put more stress on the industry.”
Many restaurant and bar owners were caught off guard last Tuesday, when the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced cocktails to-go were illegal, effective immediately, after lawmakers voted to end Wolf’s coronavirus emergency order. In addition, businesses with expanded outdoor dining had to seek the PLCB’s reapproval overnight to serve alcohol in those newly added spaces.
The bill that would make cocktails to-go permanent, HB 1154, ran into opposition over an amendment that would 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.
Besides allowing cocktails to-go, the newly amended bill would allow for temporary extension-of-premise permits that let restaurants, bars, and others serve liquor in outdoor spaces to continue through 2022. It would also enable businesses that have closed to sell inventory that would otherwise go to waste.
Free of the poison-pill RTD amendment, the bill that returns to the Senate’s Rules Committee is presumed to have Wolf’s support. Last week his office released a statement in support of a clean bill.
With only a few days remaining before the legislature’s deadline for a new state budget, HB 1154 is on the Senate Rules Committee agenda for Friday.
“Knowing that they’re trying to get the budget done and go home for the summer, I would hope that they would take the quickest route to getting this done as is,” said Moran.
Passing the bill “should be a no-brainer,” he added. Restaurants and bars “were the tip of the spear in the battle of COVID. They were the first to close. They were the ones that were asked to sacrifice the most, and they were given very little back. And this is a way for the state Senate and state House to give back, to help this industry.”
Pennsylvanians aren’t the only ones reeling from the sudden loss of takeout whiskey sours. New Yorkers are set to lose this pandemic perk Friday, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state’s state of emergency was at an end this week. Meanwhile, the governors of Maryland and Virginia have extended their own to-go programs through 2023 and 2022, respectively. And in D.C., local lawmakers made them permanent in October.