York County lawmakers were quick to issue praise when a bill that would phase out Pennsylvania's 600 state-operated liquor stores and raise millions in revenue by selling licenses to private businesses pass in the House Thursday night.
The county's Republican delegation issued a joint news release shortly after the votes were tallied, sending the bill to the state Senate.
The bill allows frequently purchased adult beverages to be sold in certain grocery and convenience stores, said Majority Whip Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township.
"It gives current beverage distributors more beer packaging options and also would allow them to sell wine and spirits," he added. "These are changes consumers have been demanding from us for a long time."
The measure passed the House on a 105-to-90 vote after about seven hours of debate. It's a victory for members of the majority Republican caucus and their ally, Gov. Tom Corbett.
Five Republicans and no Democrats crossed party lines. All York County representatives voted in favor.
The proposal is likely to see changes in the Senate.
"No matter how good a bill is, it'll likely change one way or another," Saylor said.
Opposition: Democratic opponents are warning the privatization bill will put thousands of state store employees out of work, cost more and generate less revenue than supporters predict.
"This is not a business-friendly bill," said Rep. Margo Davidson, D-Delaware. "This measure has the potential to destroy small businesses and ravage communities."
However, supporters said the state should not be selling alcohol and said private businesses would improve customer service, create jobs and put an end to a Depression-era system of state control that was nearly unique across the country. They said sales would increase in part by recapturing customers from Pennsylvania who currently purchase wine and liquor from other states, particularly New Jersey.
State Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus, said most people in the county likely know someone who makes trips to Maryland to purchase wine and spirits, often times stopping for a meal at a restaurant in that state.
"It's time to bring that practice to an end and keep those consumer dollars north of the Mason-Dixon Line," he said.
The 194-page bill would give existing beer distributors top priority in purchasing 1,200 licenses to sell wine and spirits. The legislation also would allow grocery stores to sell wine.
Liquor control: Pennsylvania is one of only two states in the nation to have full control of the wholesale and retail sale of liquor, the release says.
"The bottom line is, Americans don't want to be told where they have to go to buy any product they want to purchase," said state Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover. "This legislation will modernize our system and bring us in line with nearly every other state in the nation."
However, consumers will not be permitted to purchase wine and spirits at certain hours, just as the state-owned stores operate now. State Rep. Will Tallman, R-Reading Township, said the sale of alcohol will be restricted to between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and licensees would need an additional permit to sell alcohol between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Sundays.
"The bill would increase enforcement and protection through the expansion of state police involvement in liquor control enforcement," said state Rep. Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg. "In addition, the threat of license revocation serves as an incentive to private licensees to follow the law to protect their business investment."
The bill: Under the bill, the state would continue to operate liquor stores in otherwise underserved markets until the number of stores dips below 100. It provides for special job placement benefits for displaced Liquor Control Board employees. State taxes, including the 18 percent Johnstown Flood Tax, would continue to be levied, and supporters noted that the private retail operators would also be contributing payroll and business taxes.
It also provides a system by which those buying licenses can finance them over four years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.