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The union representing liquor store employees recently started running television and radio ads suggesting that having additional, private outlets selling alcohol would endanger children. The claim, challenged by supporters of liquor privatization, comes as the state Senate finalizes a plan to allow beer and wine in markets and convenience stores.

The hard-hitting ads from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 (UFCW) are running as the General Assembly has its best shot ever at approving privatization in a system that has changed little since prohibition ended in 1933. Sources working on the privatization language said lawmakers have the most compelling reason ever to privatize some of the operations: they need the money.

Gov. Tom Corbett’s Budget secretary recently said the state will likely face a $1 billion or greater budget deficit by the time the fiscal year ends June 30. And in an election year, taxes are out of the question.

In the UFCW ad, two mothers watching children at a playground discuss how politicians and private industry, driven by greed, are risking children’s lives. The Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association released a statement saying claims that giving Pennsylvanians the choice and convenience they want and deserve will result in more children dying are “repulsive and desperate.”

“This further illustrates the depths to which the UFCW will sink to keep its stranglehold on wine and spirits sales in Pennsylvania,” the statement said.

Legislative talks right now center on allowing beer and wine in private stores but keeping sales of spirits in state stores.

Any level of privatization approved by the Senate would be a near certainty to clear the state House of Representatives. Last March, the House approved a plan to privatize the entire system, including a sell-off of all the state stores.

Gov. Tom Corbett has said repeatedly that he would sign a bill privatizing liquor sales.

— John L. Kennedy, for the Law Weekly 

Leaders of the General Assembly have indicated they will hold no sine die, or “lame duck” session, in the period after the November elections and before Nov. 30, when the 2013-14 session is scheduled to come to an end.

Republicans, who control both the state House of Representatives and Senate, responded to Democratic leaders insisting they honor recent tradition by scheduling no session days after the general elections.

Historically, pay-raise votes and other controversial legislation were approved in sine die, capitalizing on the floor votes of those who won’t face voters because they lost their seats or retired.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said, “Under the leadership of Senate Republicans, there has not been a lame-duck session since 2006. I see no reason to undo this common-sense reform.”

Bill Patton, a spokesman for the House Democrats, wrote in an email that they raised the issue six months ahead of time because “knowing the fall schedule now will shape the legislative discussion.”

“If there’s no prospect of a post-election session in November, the House and Senate must plan accordingly and resolve to complete their work in a tighter time frame,” he wrote.

After a pay-raise bill in 2005 incited a firestorm of public opprobrium, legislative leaders decided against holding lame-duck sessions. But changing many of the other reforms would take votes on the House and Senate floors. House and Senate leaders only have to agree to hold sine die session days, no rank-and-file approval required.

— J.L.K. •