Harrisburg Happenings: August 17, 2016
Reasons to raise a glass.
The hallowed halls of the state Capitol may be missing much of their usual business buzz during these summer months, but the progress put forth by the General Assembly continues to forge ahead as we move through the month of August.
Wine lovers across the commonwealth are rejoicing, now that grocery stores can apply to the Liquor Control Board to stock our favorite vino on their shelves. Plus, Pennsylvania wine producers can apply to ship wine directly to consumers: a huge boon to our state's Lake Erie Wine Country.
Additionally, local producers of all kinds will now be able to sell their products at farmers markets and on each other's premises, providing consumers new opportunities to discover products being produced in their area. And in the greater Erie area – given the wealth of potential in our region – that discovery will ultimately lead to an expanded reach across the Keystone State.
Furthermore, Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores will see longer and more convenient hours, including additional weekend sales. And customers will enjoy flexible pricing options under the new regulations.
All of these points were long sought-after concessions in the commonwealth, as the battle between full-on liquor privatization raged against the more judicious modernization movement. Fueled by a misunderstanding at best – and, more likely, a misrepresentation – of the true depth and breadth of the liquor system's fiscal impact, privatization proponents pushed a radical attempt to sell the system to the highest bidders. They promised improved convenience, selection, and prices.
Moderates argued back, successfully, that a self-sustaining entity like the liquor system – driving over $100 million in revenue into the general fund each year after satisfying all of its own obligations – should be maximized as an asset prior to the debate over vending at face value. At a time when revenue was needed, the battle raged further over long-term gain versus a short-term influx of cash.
Fiscal projections of the modernization plan see a large net gain in revenue for both the general fund as well as the state store fund in the current and future fiscal years. And if social media support for the changes is any indication of a subsequent increase in purchasing, things are looking up.
Shifting gears towards the end of the two-year 2015-2016 legislative session this November, Gov. Tom Wolf has indicated he will implement a special session – a little-utilized constitutional provision – for only the 35th time in commonwealth history.
Special sessions are intended to allow members of the General Assembly, both in the Senate and the House, to focus on a singular issue of importance. The last time Pennsylvania saw a special session was in 2009-2010 to address transportation funding that later resulted in Act 89, which made transformational infrastructure improvements.
Wolf revealed that the session will address the heroin and opioid crisis gripping the Keystone State – and the nation, for that matter.
During an early August stop in Erie to congratulate the Esper Treatment Center for their recent award as a Commonwealth Center of Excellence in the battle against heroin and opioid addiction, Gov. Wolf and Department of Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas both drove home the message that opioid addiction is an illness. As an illness, much like diabetes or cancer, patients need to be provided treatment in a particular way that is most beneficial, ultimately, to their individual recovery.
Secretary Dallas spoke of prevention, and of working collectively with prescribing physicians and the pain management industry to avert addiction at its source. He also stressed the need for every community to band together in collective efforts aimed at health and strength.
Dallas asked two rhetorical questions: How many more lives have to be lost? And how many families have to suffer?
Our shared response is – and must continue to be – not a single one more.
Senator Sean D. Wiley can be contacted at SenatorWiley@pasenate.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @SenatorWiley.