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Pennsylvania legislature votes to privatize state liquor sales

By Dave Warner

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Pennsylvania moved a step closer on Thursday toward getting out of the liquor business, with its House of Representatives voting to sell state-run liquor stores into private hands.

Passage of the measure, which still faces a vote in the state Senate, would leave Utah as the only U.S. state to control the wholesale and retail sales of liquor and wine.

The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania House approved the measure by a vote of 105 to 90.

It still must pass the Republican-controlled Senate, where its fate is uncertain.

Currently, liquor and wine can only be purchased in Pennsylvania in 600 state-run stores, which have standardized hours and standardized prices.

Under this measure, licenses to sell wine and liquor would be open for sale to beer distributors, grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants and bars, while the state-run stores would be phased out.

Advocates of privatization say it would allow for more flexibility in sales and say the sale of licenses could generate as much as $1 billion in revenue for the state.

Opponents dispute that figure, saying it is overblown, and say the measure would cost hundreds of jobs. They also say the price of the licenses could well be beyond the means of small retail stores.

Republican state Senator Chuck McIlhinney, chairman of the Senate's Law and Justice committee, said on Thursday there is no timeline yet for consideration of the measure in the committee or full Senate.

He also said he was unsure if there are enough votes in the Senate to pass the bill.

When the measure cleared a House committee earlier this week, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett called it "a momentous, first step to bring Pennsylvania into the 21st century and provide Pennsylvanians with the convenience and choice that Americans in 48 other states enjoy."

Corbett, like several governors before him dating back to 1974, has been attempting to privatize the state's liquor business. The system dates back to 1933, at the end of Prohibition.

A public opinion survey conducted by Franklin & Marshall College showed last month that state voters are by and large split on whether to sell the state liquor stores.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Eric Walsh)

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