(WHTM) — During the pandemic, restaurants were allowed to sell cocktails to-go. Many say it was a lifeline during a dark time.
House Bill 1154 would let restaurants and bars sell customers cocktails to-go post-COVID. The bill sailed through the House, but in the Senate, Law and Justice Chair, Mike Regan (R-Cumberland) added an amendment to add RTDS or Ready To Drink Spirits, think margarita in a can. Regan would also let grocery stores, beer distributors, and convenience stores sell them.
“We think it’s a comprehensive bill. It’s smart and we think it’s what Pennsylvanians want,” Regan said. But Democrats and Governor Wolf say that’s overhauling Pennsylvania’s liquor law and will harm state stores. “This is a liquor privatization mechanism. It’s a way to sap revenue from our state,” said Sen. Nikil Saval (D-Philadelphia).
The State Restaurant Lobby supports RTDS’ but not if it means torpedoing cocktails to-go. “When you pave the way and a roadblock is put in front of you, especially when you’re running out of time, it’s frustrating,” Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association Vice President of Government Affairs, Melissa Bova said, noting that the legislature will soon break for summer recess.
In June, the Capitol is full of lobbyists making sure special interests are served. Critics note that Regan’s brother-in-law owns Wilsbach Distributors who stands to gain from selling RTDS’. Regan insists there is no link between his amendment and family relationships. “I’m doing this because it’s right for Pennsylvania,” Regan said. “It has nothing to do with your brother-in-law?” I asked. “Not a thing. Not a thing at all,” Regan said.
Regan fires back that Governor Wolf opposes RTDS’ because he is largely supported by the State Store Union. “The only people who are against this are the UFCW, the union. Why is the Governor against it? Because they are,” Regan said.
Scott Hartman owns Rutter’s Convenience Stores. He’d love to sell cocktails in a can and says they’re less than 1% of LCB sales and no threat to its business model. “It’s not gonna put them out of business they’re not even positioned to sell ready-to-drink cocktails because they don’t have refrigeration in them and these are refrigerated drinks. It’s like trying to sell somebody a warm beer,” Hartman said.
Warm beer is what restaurants feel they’re being served by lawmakers holding up that clean bill. “The legislature cannot go home for summer break without addressing our underlying issue of cocktails-to-go and outdoor seating,” Bova said.
Senator Regan notes that Democratic Governors in Michigan and Virginia recently signed RTDs’ into law in their states.