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Senate holds first hearing on liquor privatization - abc27 WHTM

Senate holds first hearing on liquor privatization

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

Call it "The Hangover" without Bradley Cooper.

The first public hearing on liquor privatization in the Senate dealt with all the headaches that will come if the state gets out of the booze business.

Testifiers in this hearing focused on the social ills and costs of freer-flowing liquor.

"The more you expand outlets, the more you expand availability of alcohol, the more problems you're gonna have," said David Bender, executive director of Compass Mark, a Lancaster-based non-profit that fights addiction.

Bender said he can't support any of the privatization plans he's seen and mocked lawmakers who are focused on making alcohol more convenient for customers.

"Wouldn't our time and resources be better spent on making jobs more convenient, education more convenient, parks and bike paths and statewide access to WIFI more convenient? Convenient access to clean water and air and healthy foods seems a lot more important to me than convenient access to vodka."

Police groups aired their concerns. "I'm telling you, as a street cop, a guy who's done the job for 38 years, that the increase in licenses and outlets for alcohol will increase crime," said Les Neri, president of the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police.

The Pennsylvania State Troopers Association asked lawmakers to build money into any privatization bill to pay for more cadet classes, because they will be needed.

"The residents, the families of Pennsylvania are gonna suffer in day-to-day things that go on with traffic accidents, assaults, burglaries, things like that," said Joe Kovel, PSTA president. "Because we won't have the manpower to respond to those incidents."

But Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, an appointee of Governor Corbett who's pushing privatization, came to the hearing room to downplay safety concerns for reporters.

"I think things are going to be just fine," Noonan said. "I think we can deal with this issue [privatization]. Forty-eight other states deal with it, I'm sure Pennsylvania can too."

Testifiers had heard that before and addressed it in the hearing.

"Some of you have mentioned the fact that there's only a couple of states that heavily regulate alcohol," said Deb Beck, president of Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania. "I remember when I was a kid and I would say to may parents, 'You know all the other kids are doing this thing, why can't I?' I got nowhere with that."

Nowhere aptly describes where the House Bill that passed last month stands on the Senate side of the building. Law and Justice Committee Chairman Charles McIlhinney (R-Bucks-Montgomery) admitted as much after the hearing. "I don't think there's even close to enough votes to pass that house bill."

Many lawmakers and the governor want the senate to pass a privatization bill along with the budget. They fear if it doesn't, it'll never get passed.

"There are a lot of things I'd like to get accomplished by June 30th," said Senator Richard Alloway (R-Franklin-Adams). "And I am hopeful we can get something done on the liquor issue."

Alloway says he has a better understanding of the social costs of passing a booze bill after the hearing but he says Republican senators do want to get something to the governor.

Alloway says the gloom and doom of Tuesday's hearing won't deter him. "Yeah, a lot of presenters said the sky is falling, the sky is falling."

The sky may not be falling but the clock is ticking. Governor Corbett wants the senate to move but Chairman McIlhinney is ignoring the governor's pleas and the political pressure. He says he'll hold two more public hearings.

"I'm going to try to get it done with the budget. The governor would like to see something done in June and I think we can try to make that goal. But if something crops up during these hearings and I need more time, the senate will take more time to address these issues."

McIlhinney also provided perspective.

"This is the first time the Senate took up the issue. The House has been fumbling with it for two years."

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