HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The Pennsylvania Senate passed HB 1154 Wednesday, a bill that allows restaurants to offer cocktail drinks to-go permanently.
Cocktails to-go became a reality during the COVID-19 pandemic when bars and restaurants were struggling with capacity limits and were unable to sell alcohol after an earlier-than-normal time.
“Pennsylvania’s hospitality businesses are still suffering from the huge economic impacts of COVID-19 and allowing this critical lifeline to expire will harm restaurants and bars,” David Wojnar, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States Senior Vice President and Head of State Public Policy said. “We applaud the Senate for passing this bill and urge the House to do the same.”
Governor Wolf has been rallying for the bill, saying Tuesday “I support memorializing this relief for bars and restaurants by making cocktails-to-go permanent and I strongly urge the Senate to support Pennsylvania’s bars, restaurants, and hotels by sending a clean bill to my desk today.”
“Frankly, the pandemic has changed everything. It’s changed the way that we purchase, the way that we operate, the way that we arrange our tables, the way that we really do everything,” Center City Cafe Fresco Owner Brian Fertenbaugh said. “It was definitely helpful during that time you know? Again, it would be a nice convenience I think, not only for us as a licensee, but for Pennsylvanians to be able to do that.”
According to the Pa. Restaurant and Lodging Association, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has notified the affected businesses. So Fertenbaugh took down his additional outdoor seating that was once allowed because of COVID, but he’s optimistic. “As long as the guests are comfortable sitting closer together then we’ll have the same amount of seating outside,” Fertenbaugh said.
Because the governor’s disaster emergency declaration order ended yesterday, restaurants are currently not able to sell the drinks. Wolf is pushing for the legislature to pass the bill immediately to give relief back to the restaurants that are trying to recover after a long pandemic.
The bill must go back to the House of Representatives to allow them to vote on small changes made by the Senate. The original bill was already passed by the House last month, meaning the amended bill has a good chance to pass.
Governor Wolf has said he would pass the bill as soon as it reaches his desk before it went through its changes. A State Senate committee added an amendment to allow the sale of ready-to-drink cocktails at grocery and convenience stores. The Governor’s Office says the Governor does not support the bill with these changes.
“For the last 15 months, this industry has been mitigated and shut down and it’s going to take more than just one month or two to recover and these are two key provisions that allow restaurants to serve their customers better and provide an excellent experience,” Vice President of Government Affairs for the Pa. Restaurant & Lodging Association, Melissa Bova said.