Six-pack sellers, bulk beer remain at odds

The fight for statewide liquor-sale reform appears to be back, with the front shifting to gas stations and grocery stores a year after the last privatization attempt failed.

State senators publicly batted around a few ideas last week as the long June session got underway, with some seemingly in agreement that takeout beer should be available in settings beyond case distributors and six-pack shops. Introducing beer at gas stations and more grocery stores – an idea particularly popular with businesses like Sheetz – would likely be a part of any proposal, as lawmakers like Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, have said.

In a Harrisburg Patriot-News article Thursday, Eichelberger said he

couldn’t imagine a successful reform bill that maintains the ban on beer at gas stations. Only in rare cases and with legal tricks have Pennsylvania gas retailers managed to sell beer, as at the 17th Street Sheetz.

A Sheetz subsidiary owns the beer license and the gas pumps are on a separate property with speed bumps separating the parcels.

Among the plan’s opponents are beer distributors, which hold an edge when it comes to large-scale beer sales. Selling suds by the case, distributors could see a hit if competition is expanded to every corner gas station and supermarket.

“The most recent discussion in the Senate was not really about state store privatization but primarily aimed at picking winners and losers among private independent businesses – our small, family-owned and operated beer distributors – with new provisions that would loosen beer sales laws designed to protect minors,” Mark Tanczos, president of the Malt Beverage Distributors Association of Pennsylvania, said in an April statement.

Some lawmakers have suggested compromises, the Patriot-News reported, including a rule that would bar “food market” beer sales within two miles of existing distributors. That would rule out new sales in much of Altoona, already dotted with big-box beer shops.

Compromises might not be enough for the distributors, however. Their preferred plan, according to Tanczos: Let them sell six-packs as well as cases, and leave the gas stations out of the equation.

Water work, water work everywhere

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District, got a big feather in his cap Tuesday when President Barack Obama signed his signature piece of legislation: a bill that lays out $12 billion in water and infrastructure projects while streamlining the process for future work.

Shuster’s Water Resources Reform and Development Act spent nine months in Congress, including a long wait as senators and representatives hashed out their differences. In the end, the bill passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support and praise from industry groups.

“This new law will help ensure the country has a modern, efficient transportation network, something that is fundamental to a stronger economy, keeping America competitive, and encouraging job growth,” Shuster said in a statement accompanying Obama’s signing ceremony.

While Shuster can boast of his achievement in a divided Congress, he can’t affort to rest on his laurels: A deadline to fund highway work is looming, and his Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will play a major role in any bill. With federal highway money running out, the summer work season underway and House Republican cooperation threatened by a leadership shakeup, it could be a tougher accomplishment than Shuster’s water bill.

In other news:

n In the wake of Pennsylvania’s third train derailment this year, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., called for funding to ensure railroad inspections and safety measures to prevent destructive oil spills. With crude oil frequently transported on railroads, insufficient funding for safety could be disastrous, he said in a statement.

n If you’ve ever taken in an Altoona Curve game and thought, “If only Gov. Tom Corbett was here,” July 31 is your lucky day. Thanks to the Blair County Republicans, Corbett is set to attend a Curve game while supporters are treated to a buffet – tickets are $23.25 for adults and $18.25 for kids, to benefit the county Republican committee.