A final push to permanently allow restaurants and taverns to sell take-out cocktails before lawmakers’ summer vacation has failed.
A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward of R-Westmoreland County confirmed on Friday that deliberations on the merits of the restaurant aid legislation will be postponed until the fall. Lawmakers have also delayed consideration of a separate proposal to expand venues that can sell similar ready-to-drink cocktails.
The news of the delay was a big disappointment to advocates of the restaurant and tavern industry. These businesses have been crippled financially by COVID-19 mitigation measures that led them to suspend food service for months during the coronavirus outbreak.
Restaurants and bars have been allowed to sell take-out cocktails thanks to a waiver made possible by Governor Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 emergency disaster declaration, but lawmakers have ended the declaration. The restaurant industry relied on lawmakers to find a legislative remedy.
For restaurateurs, restoring their ability to sell take-out cocktails was seen as a way to help their recovery. But their efforts to get there hit a bump in the road.
âHolding the industry that suffered the most during the pandemic hostage is a mistake. This is simply not true, âsaid Rep. Kurt Masser, of R-Northumberland County, who sponsored the legislation to commemorate the sales of take-out cocktails.
Restaurants and taverns were allowed to sell up to a gallon of take-out cocktails as long as the COVID-19 emergency disaster declaration was in place. The General Assembly ended this statement earlier this month.
Masser’s bill to make take-out drinks permanent was passed by the House by a vote of 187-14 in May. But the Senate approved an amendment proposed by R-Cumberland / York Counties Senator Mike Regan that would have allowed virtually all companies selling alcoholic beverages to sell ready-to-drink cocktails, which are now sold exclusively in stores. state-owned liquor. .
The governor initially supported the bill to help the restaurant industry, but after Senate revisions, Wolf voted to veto the proposed expansion of liquor privatization. In doing so, he berated Senate Republicans for “prioritizing certain special interests over common sense solutions supported by the bar and restaurant industry.”
With a veto in sight, the House voted on Thursday to remove the language of Senate ready-to-drink cocktails from the bill. The House chose to approve legislation aimed only at allowing restaurants to sell cocktails and send them to the Senate.
But this is where the break bill was hit.
âIt was a leadership decision to keep the bill at this point,â said Bruce McLanahan, Regan’s chief of staff. “It was disappointing that House decided to strike this because ready-to-drink cocktails are very similar in nature” to take-out cocktails.
Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, said stalled legislation is hurting the re-establishment of licensed taverns and restaurants. And that robs consumers of the ability to buy up to a gallon of their favorite cocktail at a bar or restaurant, he said.
The Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association has called delaying action on this bill another devastating blow to the Commonwealth’s restaurant industry. Some restaurant owners had berated the Democratic governor for his COVID-19 restrictions and their impact on the industry. But on Friday, Senate Republicans were under fire.
“Our industry, once again, is caught in the midst of political postures and empty promises, when all we are looking for are simple tools to help propel our recovery,” said Melissa Bova, its vice president. government affairs.
âAs far as my point of view, for 15 months Senate Republicans said they supported restaurants, but today they are the ones that have failed us,â Bova added. âIt shouldn’t have happened that way. The next three months are the most important for the provisions in the bill and would have helped the industry to reboot and enter the post-COVID world. It is no longer a possibility. “
Even after restaurants and taverns were allowed to resume indoor food service, they operated under capacity limits for months under the governor’s measures to curb the spread of the virus. On May 28, restaurants, bars and other businesses were finally allowed to return to full capacity.
But now it looks like restaurants and bars won’t be boosted by take-out cocktails during the summer.
Jan Murphy can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.
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