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Alcohol Regulation Roundup: December 20, 2011

With the holidays near and all in good cheer, here is some alcohol news at which you can jeer.

And you plan on having booze around the house on Christmas, you had better consult with my previous roundup of Christmas Day liquor sales bans and plan your shopping accordingly.

District of Columbia: Beer lovers in D.C. may soon be allowed to fill growlers. D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) filed legislation earlier this month that would lift the ban on filling growlers -- large jugs that can be filled with fresh beer, enjoyed at home, and refilled.

Georgia: Counties in Georgia have been voting for the past year on whether they want to retain their ban on Sunday alcohol sales or repeal the ban. In November, Savannah was one of the counties that voted to end the ban. This week the city council made it official, meaning that businesses in Savannah (presuming they have a liquor license) may immediately begin serving alcohol on Sundays.

Illinois: For many years, local brewers of any size in Illinois were allowed to self-distribute their product. Since the '80s, Anheuser-Busch (A-B), the St. Louis-based brewer, has owned a 30 percent share of Illinois distributor Windy City Distribution, but when they tried to buy the remaining 70 percent in 2010, the liquor control board put a stop to it. They say this is because A-B is technically not based in Illinois -- they are an out-of-state dealer. A-B claimed, rightfully so, that the laws discriminated against out-of-state producers, and as a result the state passed a law that essentially stopped all brewers -- out of state or in-state -- from self distributing, though it does allow smaller brewers to continue self-distribution. The liquor control board is in the process of determining whether or not A-B should be allowed to hold onto its 30 percent interest in Windy City Distributor or be forced to divest entirely -- something that A-B claims is the goal of its competition, Miller-Coors, which is currently the number-one seller in Illinois.

Indiana: For many years now, businesses and consumers in Indiana have tried to overturn the laws that ban Sunday carryout sales of alcohol and the allowance of cold beer sales in convenience or grocery stores with little success. Now, a group is trying a different route by pushing for cold beer carryout sales on Sunday and cold beer in all stores, as long as the beer is brewed in Indiana. Even if Alliance of Responsible Alcohol Retailers, the group pushing the proposal, is successful, it brings into question if this law could be considered discriminatory toward out-of-state producers.

Iowa: An initiative in Iowa City would repeal a long-standing law (Iowa Code 123.49) that stipulates liquor must be stored in the container in which it was purchased (unless poured directly into a glass for consumption, i.e., cocktails). This means that restaurants and bars may not create their own specialty bitters or infused spirits. The “Raising the Bar” petition would erase the outdated law, allowing “mixologists” the freedom to create signature liquors for specialty cocktails.

Massachusetts: As I reported last week, Massachusetts is one of those states where you won’t be able to buy alcohol on Christmas Day. It has the special distinction of being one of the three states that not only bans Christmas sales, but also bans sales the Monday after Christmas if the holiday falls on a Sunday. However, word on the street is that the state legislature is working hard on a bill to allow convenience, grocery, and liquor stores to sell beer on Monday, December 26. It would do away with “one of the quirks in the Blue Laws we never fixed,’’ according to Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. Of course, they don’t seem to have a problem with the quirky little law that bans sales on Christmas or Sundays...

North Carolina: Breweries of all sizes may now offer tastings and sell beer on-site thanks to a bill signed into law this month by Governor Beverly Perdue. HB 796 removes the cap that had previously only allowed brewers producing less than 25,000 barrels of beer per-year to sell on-site and offer tastings. The move is an attempt to attract large West Coast brewers, like Sierra Nevada, to open production facilities in the state, providing tax revenue, jobs, and overall economic stimulus that could help the state.

Pennsylvania: An alternative plan for altering PA’s liquor laws earned approval at a House panel on Tuesday. Unlike previous privatization plans that aimed to completely shut down the state-run liquor stores and auction off licenses, this plan would keep state stores open while bars and beer distributors would be able to sell a beer in a greater variety of quantities and beer distributors could get licenses to sell wine. State stores, however, would be the only ones allowed to sell hard liquor.

While this plan seems more palatable to a few folks at the PA State House, consumers and the governor aren’t convinced that a half-way measure will produce the change they desire. As Gov. Tom Corbett's office commented, this hybrid plan “is not privatization.”

Do we really need to keep around the PLCB, which wastes money on wine-bots and ads that tell women they are to blame for being raped because they choose to drink alcohol?

Also in PAA new bill would allow beer distributors to sell beer from 9am to 9pm on Sundays. They are currently restricted to the hours of noon to 5pm on Sundays. It would also allow restaurants to serve alcohol on Sundays beginning at 9am.

Washington: Though Washington State residents recently voted in favor of Initiative 11831, which would eliminate the state-run liquor store system and open up sales of hard alcohol to the private market, several lawsuits have been filed to stop the measure. Cowlitz County, which was one of the five to vote against the measure, filed a complaint, as have the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers, who claim that 800 workers will lose their jobs if the plan goes forward. The lawsuits hinge on the argument that the ballot initiative violated the state’s single-subject law, which mandates that an initiative “contain only one issue or subject.”

I-1183 did ask voters to consider many things, such as “getting state out of the liquor business,” “deregulating wine distribution,” “creating a new marketplace for large retailers,” “a new taxing and revenue scheme,” and “state aid to local governments.” However, those supporting the initiative will argue that the subjects are all related and thus not in violation of the single-subject rule.

Wisconsin: A Republican lawmaker in Wisconsin has introduced a bill that would allow the state to join with the other 43 that allow liquor tastings in stores. His measure would allow stores to offer three one-third ounce liquor samples (or a shot) to customers at a time.