Cocktails to Go

Permanent to-Go Cocktails Hit Another Roadblock in Pa. State Senate

Senate leadership has not yet said when the bill will come back for a vote, with mixed drinks to-go now banned in the interim in Pennsylvania

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Permanent cocktails to-go are facing yet another roadblock in Pennsylvania as the bill has stalled in the state Senate.

The Pennsylvania House voted on Thursday to approve a bill that would allow restaurants and bars to continue to serve cocktails to-go for good. The practice began during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to help struggling restaurants and bars. It was approved last year through an emergency order by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Mixed drinks to-go proved to be popular to many Pennsylvanians, though they are no longer legal after Wolf's emergency orders ended earlier this month.

The House-approved bill is now back in the Senate, sans an amendment that previously sparked disagreements between the Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf.

Senate leadership has not yet said when the bill will come back for a vote.

In May 2020, Wolf signed legislation that allowed bars and restaurants to sell mixed drinks to-go during the disaster emergency declaration. Businesses lost the authority to sell to-go cocktails when Wolf's pandemic disaster emergency declaration formally ended on June 15.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board sent a letter to restaurants and bars that same day stating that to-go cocktails and outdoor dining structures that became popular during the pandemic are no longer allowed.

The bill to permanently bring back to-go cocktails was first introduced in the House by Republican Rep. Kurt Masser, who said his goal was to allow bars and restaurants to makeup funds lost during the pandemic. It passed on May 25, with a final vote of 187-14.

Republicans in the Senate then tacked on a new provision which would have let beer-and-wine licensees sell mixed drinks with hard liquor in cans or bottles, causing Wolf and other Democrats to withdraw their support.

The change would have allow private wholesale distributors to sell the products to retailers, not the state-controlled liquor store system. Currently, only state-owned liquor stores can sell cans of mixed drinks at retail.

Democrats believe the provision would have caused state-owned liquor stores to lose revenue and worsen the problem of illegal alcohol sales at convenience stores and delis. Republicans said the measure would boost state tax revenues and increase convenience.

The House Rules Committee unanimously voted to remove the provision from the bill on Thursday. It passed the House 189-12 and was then placed on the Senate Rules Committee agenda for the following day.

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