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A privatized liquor industry in Pennsylvania is one step closer to becoming a reality.

Thursday night, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill that calls for liquor sales to gradually be removed from the state’s hands. Privatization advocates say the bill would lead to cheaper liquor prices, greater selection and longer hours for Pennsylvanians — particularly in urban areas like West Philadelphia.

The passage of House Bill 790 — which carried by a 105-90 vote — came after hours of debate on Wednesday and Thursday.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, who has been an outspoken advocate of privatization, called the day “historic.”

“Never before has a liquor privatization bill passed through either chamber of the legislature, and I am extremely proud of the hard work and commitment the House and the leadership they have shown to the people of Pennsylvania today,” he said in a statement.

Under the bill, beer retailers would be the first eligible to apply for liquor licenses that were previously given only to state-operated stores. The bill would eventually allow supermarkets to enter the liquor industry.

Although the legislation is a bold move toward privatization, it marks a less aggressive push than a similar plan Corbett had called for earlier this year. Under Corbett’s original plan, the state would have sold off the retail and wholesale operations of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board almost immediately after the bill was passed.

Today’s legislation marks a far more gradual privatization effort.

While the bill has made its way through the House, it may face an uphill battle as it moves on to the Senate. Several prominent Democratic senators have already spoken out against the measure, and it is likely that any privatization plan would have to go through several more rounds of revision before it stands a chance of passing again.

Privatization supporters have consistently pushed consumer convenience in their campaign over the past several weeks.

“We have the most convoluted and complex way of dealing with liquor sales in this state,” Charlie Gerow, a spokesperson for the grassroots Coalition to End the Liquor Monopoly, told The Daily Pennsylvanian earlier this semester. “Many Pennsylvanians realize that, and we’re going to make our voices heard.”

Gerow added that a privatization plan could go a long way toward bringing a liquor store back near Penn’s campus, which lost its closest state store — located at 41st and Market streets — when it shut down in January 2012.

Opponents of the plan, however, have cited data showing that the state-run liquor industry is a boost to the economy and a valuable job source for Pennsylvanians.

“From our point of view, particularly at a time when the state has a real challenge with raising sufficient revenues, privatization shouldn’t be high on our priority list,” Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, told the DP earlier this year.

The Senate is expected to begin considering a version of the bill within the next 30 to 60 days.

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