Pennsylvania: No more bootleggers? House could allow out-of-state liquor purchases
A bill that would end a provision of state law that prohibits Pennsylvanians from purchasing and transporting liquor across state lines.
December 15, 2015
If you live near one of Pennsylvania’s borders and drink alcohol regularly, the odds are you’ve broken the law, even if you didn’t know it.
Under current state law, residents can be fined $10 per bottle or can of beer and $25 per container of wine or liquor they are caught bringing across state lines. Lawmakers have discussed doing away with the regulation for years. This year, amid the budget impasse and a renewed push to privatize the state system, the law could be changed for good.
“I want to thank you for this most unexpected Christmas present,” said Rep. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia County, at a House Liquor Control Committee meeting on Tuesday.
Legislation sponsored by Taylor and referred to the committee in March would eliminate the prohibition on out-of-state alcohol sales and allow residents to make purchases for other residents. It passed the committee Tuesday in a party-line vote.
“I do not want to continue to subject my constituents to being criminals because they may purchase alcohol a quarter of a mile from their house,” Taylor said.
Residents who purchase beer and liquor outside of the state would still be responsible for paying state sales taxes to the Department of Revenue, according to the proposal.
Rep. Paul Costa, D-Allegheny County, said he understands and agrees with the intent of the law, but he’s concerned that it could be abused.
“Is there anything stopping me from loading up a U-Haul truck and bringing it back to the state and selling these products?” He said.
Rep. Chris Ross, R-Chester County, said such an enterprise would still be illegal under the law. When purchasing for another resident, he said, individuals can only be compensated for the cost of the alcohol and not the expense of transporting it.
“There’s no incentive or inducement to do that other than as a courtesy to their neighbors,” he said.
But Costa said he’s still concerned that, in the absence of a quantity limit, enterprising individuals could skirt the law.
“My fear is that people will find a way to circumvent the system,” he said.
Ross, the committee chair, said the same resources would be available to enforce the new law as the old prohibition on out-of-state purchases.
Data on enforcement actions under the current law was not available Tuesday, but a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania State Police said it would be a small number.
Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-Delaware County, raised the prospect of House Republicans using the bill as a vehicle for another piece of legislation.
“It’s Dec. 15th. We got notice of this voting meeting this morning, at about 10 a.m.,” she said. “Is this a bill something we’re voting on at face value or is this a vehicle for something else?”
That something else, of course, could be the privatization of the state system.
“I would always take things at face value,” Ross replied, adding: “And I well tell you that if the bill goes forward and is scheduled for a vote on the floor, it is entirely appropriate for any member to offer amendments at that time. Those amendments will be considered on the floor. That’s normal voting procedure.”
Two days after the Senate passed a laundry list of liquor reforms that kept the state-run system in place, the House is drafting a new plan of their own.
Costa, speaking after the meeting, said he’ll take the bill at face value until circumstances indicate otherwise. He said he’d be willing to vote for it if a limit is placed on the amount of liquor that can be transported across state lines.
After the meeting, Ross said HB757 could go to the House floor as soon as Thursday. So far, he said, he’s not aware of any plan to use it as a conveyance for liquor privatization.
“We don’t have a clear path forward right now,” Ross said, of the liquor amendment he’s worked on in response to the Senate’s plan, which would roll out a set out reforms to the existing state system and expand wine sales.
“I remain committed to reasonable, fair liquor privatization at both the wholesale and the retail level,” he said. “I will keep working on that. At this point I’m expecting, if I don’t die in the interim, to be here until the 30th of November, 2016.”