Floor vote on liquor store privatization possible soon
With the state budget hearings over, the next big thing on the Legislature's plate could be a floor vote in the House by month's end on Gov. Tom Corbett's proposal to privatize the state-owned liquor stores.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-28, Pittsburgh, outlined a schedule last week to have a vote by the Liquor Control Committee on the plan during the third week of March followed by the floor vote before the month's end.
He formally introduced the governor's plan to sell the roughly 600 state stores and auction up to 1,200 private wine and spirits licenses over four years as a bill last week.
Turzai said the long-running debate over privatizing liquor sales has shifted from whether Pennsylvania should do it to the mechanics of implementing a transition.
"We are talking about the details - how do you get there," he added.
But a big question mark hangs over what kind of dual role would exist for the state stores and private stores during any transition. That issue could dominate the upcoming committee vote.
Turzai suggested that private stores would ultimately win out over the state stores in any competition for consumer purchases.
House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-33, Allegheny County, criticized the pace of planned action.
"Most legislators want to discuss ways to improve services and convenience for customers through the normal committee process," he said. "Leader Turzai is pushing for a vote on his liquor bill before almost any discussion takes place."
A bit of eye-opening testimony at state budget hearings about right-to-know requests filed by state prison inmates could lead to an amendment to pending legislation to update the Open Records Law.
Top officials at the Corrections Department and the Board of Probation and Parole said they receive hundreds of requests annually from inmates seeking information often relating to their cases. Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said his agency received 1,925 requests.
Wetzel said the inmates can obtain the information they need through a department grievance process.
About 70 percent of the 1,300 right-to-know requests to the probation board come from inmates, said Board Chairman Michael Potteiger.
Handling inmate requests isn't the purpose of the open records law, said Sen. John Blake, D-22, Archbald, who raised the issue at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-9, Chester, is working on open records legislation that would tackle a variety of issues, such as bringing the four state-related universities under the law, clarifying the status of police incident reports and curbing requests for records from commercial firms.
(Robert Swift is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers. Email: email@example.com.)