My regular column today questions why state lawmakers pushing for new booze laws such as selling off the state stores and turning liquor and wine over to the private sector aren't also pushing to relax state restrictions on the sale of beer.

Seemed like a good question given the hot weather we're having.

But I know from past experience that any Harrisburg effort to ease the access to any kind of hooch is always met with resistance from socially conservative rural lawmakers and state and national groups fighting drunk-driving and underage drinking; not to mention unions and licensed beer distributors.

The next (renewed) debate over selling state stores is likely to start in earnest this fall when lawmakers return from summer break. As noted in today's column, that will include an effort in the Senate to amend the liquor bill to include fewer restrictions on beer sales.

So here's a preview of the argument against easier access to beer. Some might call it "bitter beer facts."

There's a national, non-profit group based in Arlington, Va., The Century Council, that maintains state-by-state data on alcohol-related driving fatalites, including among underage drinkers.

If you match the council's data with state-by-state beer consumption data from the D.C.-based Beer Institute, those against relaxing beer laws might have some ammo.

For example, in our seven-state region (Pa., Del, N.J., N.Y., W. Va., Md. & Ohio), the highest-ranking per capita consumers of beer are Delaware and West Virginia. They respectively rank 16th & 22nd nationally.

Those two states also have the highest rate of alcohol-related fatalities per 100,000 population, according to Century Council data. Delaware's at 5.1 overall and 1.6 among those under 21 years of age; West Virginia is at 6.3 and 2.6.

Conversely, states ranked lower in per person consumption -- New Jersey 48th, New York 49th -- have lower fatality data. New Jersey's at 1.7 per 100,000 overall and .8 among underage drivers; New York is 1.6 and .9.

(Pennsylvania, as mentioned in today's column, is ranked 27th nationally in consumption. It's fatality numbers are 3.2 and 1.2.)

There are no doubt many factors that influence these state-by-state fatality numbers, including state terrain, condition of highways, miles of rural roads, percentage of underage populations, etc. But, make no mistake, any effort to change any aspect of booze intake in Pennsylvania will be met with strong opposition -- and not just from the state store workers union and beer distributors.