State lawmakers want to expand the types of alcoholic beverages that can be directly shipped to New York consumers and how restaurants buy alcohol in the state before legislative session ends in about five weeks.

The $237 billion state budget extended to-go alcoholic beverages for five years through 2030, and allows movie theaters that serve food to get a liquor license. Several lawmakers plan to make alcohol-to-go permanent in the future.

But before lawmakers leave Albany on June 6, they want to pass legislation to allow restaurants to buy a limited supply of alcohol from local retailers instead of waiting for delivery shipments from large distributors. There's also discussion to pass a bill to permit cideries, distilleries and other small beverage producers to ship to customers like wineries across the state.

"A lot of these laws in the alcohol space are from the Prohibition era — they're super antiquated," state Sen. James Skoufis said Thursday.

Skoufis, a Hudson Valley Democrat, sponsors the bills and said it's time for change since nearly a century has passed since Prohibition ended. 

The state's two largest liquor distributors — Empire Merchants and Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits — comprise over 90% of the market and form a duopoly, the senator said. The distributors and other special interests have fought hard against the change for years and do not want small businesses cutting into their profit, even minimally.

"These two reforms would take a very small piece of their business away — we're talking a fraction of 1%, probably," said Skoufis, adding the Legislature needs to take action.

But addiction recovery advocates like Rob Kent, who formerly served as counsel to the state Office of Addiction Services & Supports, argues the proposed laws will have a detrimental impact on public health — especially young people.

"They're ignoring the data," Kent said of state Health Department records. "One in 6 New York adults have shown to have excessive alcohol use in the form of either binge or heavy drinking. Everyone always talks about the revenue we're going to generate if we make alcohol more accessible. They need talk about the cost of treating people who end up using it too much and ending up with health conditions."

Kent joined several health officials and organizations to stand against expanding to-go alcohol during budget talks.

With heavy drinking and related health complications on the rise, Kent said it's the wrong time to make alcohol more accessible. He cited National Institute of Health data that shows more than 178,000 people in the U.S. die each year from excessive alcohol use.

"It's the most preventable cause of death in the United States, and yet, we've got all these efforts to try to increase access to it," added Kent, who is president of Kent Strategic Advisors.

Meanwhile, restaurants and state business leaders support the posed shipping and distribution changes. They argue it will remove fees and costs of working with distributors and help small businesses and the local economy — especially as many restaurants and businesses in the hospitality industry continue to struggle financially since the COVID-19 pandemic.

"If I buy a case of Tito's a week, and they're buying 100 cases of Tito's a week, even when they're marking it up, it's still less in the store than I can buy it for," said Dominick Purnomo, director of the New York Restaurant Association and owner of Dominick Purnomo Restaurant Group.

While restaurant owners and people with liquor licenses will push for the legislation to clear both houses within the next month, they said Thursday the Legislature must prioritize other legislation to address inefficiencies in the State Liquor Authority.

Last year, a commission published 18 recommendations to modernize the agency. Skoufis proposed legislation to enshrine most of the recommended SLA reforms into state law, but legislative leaders have not advanced the proposal for a vote.

Tess Collins owns McGeary's Irish Pub in Albany and said the longstanding issues within the State Liquor Authority have led to months-long delays that negatively impact New York businesses.

"It can really put somebody out of business," Collins said. "That's the issue here. People are calling me. Something that would take two months is taking a year for them. ... These problems are huge problems for small business."

The state budget included a few of the commission's minor recommendations to reform the State Liquor Authority to speed up the application process amid an ongoing backlog, which has started to see progress, including streamlining how applicants notify municipalities of their application, allowing one-day permits for special events to serve liquor and making it easier for businesses to qualify for a license.

Purnomo is urging Gov. Kathy Hochul, who convened the commission, and lawmakers to heed the recommendations and reform the agency sooner rather than later.

"It's the execution problem that we're lacking," he said. "All of these little things, all of this nickel and diming adds up. A lot of it really is just streamlining the process. It needs to start from square one and then let those laws pertain to the modern age."