Pennsylvania lawmakers are smartly on their way to extending an already established lifeline to the state’s bars and restaurants, many of which are still trying to recover after being devastated by COVID-19 restrictions in place throughout 2020.

This week, the state House passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Kurt Masser that would permit bars and licensed restaurants to permanently sell mixed drinks-to-go. The final House vote was 187-14 and the bill now moves to the Pennsylvania Senate for consideration.

In a memo to lawmakers seeking support, Masser — who owns a bar/restaurant in the Valley — wrote that the legislation passed last year only permitted sales during the existing disaster emergency declaration.

“My legislation is needed to make this change permanent,” Masser wrote. “Making this initiative permanent will provide our bars and restaurants with a needed option to continue to make up funds that they lost during this crisis.”

The law makes a lot of sense. No bar or restaurant was immune from the impact of strict mitigation measures put in place during the height of the pandemic last year and even into early 2021. Many are still feeling the impact, even as restrictions have eased.

According to the National Restaurant Association Economic Impact Survey, most recently reported in April, 84 percent of Pennsylvania restaurants say their total sales in March 2021 were lower than it would have been without COVID and the average drop in sales was about 30 percent.

More than nine in 10 owners said current staffing levels are lower than normal and more than half say staffing is still 20 percent lower than normal.

This simple lifeline of offering drinks-to-go makes so much sense, presenting another opportunity for everyone to help our local bars and restaurants.

”With the success that this new opportunity had during the past year, it makes sense to allow our establishments to continue offering mixed drinks-to-go to consumers on a permanent basis,” said Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association. “The pandemic forced many industries to innovate. As crazy as this might sound, one of the innovative breakthroughs and bright spots of the year for our industry was the cocktail-to-go … something so simple that it makes you wonder why licensed establishments couldn’t do this before.”

We urge the state Senate and Gov. Tom Wolf to move quickly on this legislation as another way to help an industry still struggling and recovering from one of their toughest years ever.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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