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Politics & Government

Groups Voice Opposition to Liquor Privatization Plan

Groups opposed to a bill that would privatize liquor sales in Pennsylvania held a rally at Mercy Hospital of UPMC Monday, saying the proposal would result in a rise in first responders’ workloads.

“As crime increases, as abuse increases, as the negative impacts of the increased availability of alcohol to youth drinking, to underage drinking, all of these things are going to be a huge responsibility for first responders in this state,” said Barney Oursler, executive director of Pittsburgh UNITED.

The PA Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN) joined in rallying against House Bill 790.

Group leaders showed copies of letters written by the Pennsylvania Professional Fire Fighters Association (PPFFA), Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association and the Fraternal Order of Police asking state representatives to reconsider the bill.

PPFFA President Art Martynuska wrote that the growth of alcohol-related incidents would divert resources and place first responders in jeopardy from injuries and exposures to blood-borne pathogens.

Fraternal Order of Police President Les Neri cited a study conducted in the state of Washington after privatization, which reported a 63 percent increase in liquor thefts and 30 percent increase in alcohol-related crimes near private vendors.

All of the organizations noted that they are already struggling to keep up with their work after the economic downturn, and the bill would proliferate the use of their services but provide no extra funding.

“Our coalition is very much aware that this privatization scheme of Governor Corbett and some of the right-wing leaders in the state House and Senate is really a threat to the communities that are taking care of by firefighters, by EMS, by police, by sheriffs,” Oursler said.

The Rev. Richard Freeman, president of PIIN, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that privatization would increase the probability of people losing their lives because they would have more access to alcohol, resulting in a rise in consumption.

“For us, the debate must be a debate about lives, not a mere focus on a short-term infusion of cash," Freeman said. "This debate is a fight for the lives of the people of the commonwealth.”

Freeman also noted a poll conducted by Franklin & Marshall College, which showed that 53 percent of registered voters who supported selling state-owned liquor stores in February had dropped to 47 percent in May.

The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.