HARRISBURG (CBS) – Battle lines took shape as a state Senate committee began hearings on the idea of selling off Pennsylvania’s state-owned liquor stores.

In what may be a harbinger of the debate that lies ahead, experts came before the Senate Law and Justice Committee to make the case for and against privatizing liquor stores. As they did, senators on both sides of the issue shredded the arguments of those experts pushing the opposite view.

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Ted Miller of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation predicts dire consequences if Pennsylvania’s control system were scrapped. “I estimate the quality of life lost would equate to 800 deaths per year,” Miller says.

Republican Senator Gene Yaw says he believes state residents can handle liquor and scoffs at Miller’s projections, “I have a hell of a lot more faith in Pennsylvanians than that.”

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“We found no relationship between alcohol control and underage drinking,” says Antony Davies, an associate professor at Duquesne University, who told the committee that there’s no social benefit to maintaining state control of alcohol sales.

But Allegheny County Senator Jim Ferlo, the ranking Democrat on the committee, was unimpressed, saying, “I’m not going to argue the methodology you’re speaking of. But I know one analytical technique that I use a lot. It’s called common sense and life experience.”

Supporters of privatization were equally dismissive of experts who argued against a sale.

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Reported by Tony Romeo, KYW Newsradio 1060