Alcohol Regulation Roundup: April 6, 2011

Nation: Wine shipping is once again being threatened by federal legislation threatening to overturn Supreme Court decisions that clearly made it illegal for states to discriminate against out-of-state alcohol producers. Last year’s Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act (CARE Act) is now going by HR 1161, the Community Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act; if it passes, states will be allowed to ban or seriously affect wine producers’ ability to ship their product directly to their consumers.

Alaska: Republican Rep. Bob Lynn of Alaska is making the case that if men and women are old enough to join the military and risk their lives defending this country, then they ought to be respected as responsible enough adults to drink alcohol. If Lynn’s bill passes, anyone with a military I.D. will be legally allowed to purchase alcohol in the state. Currently, members of the military serving overseas are allowed to drink, depending on the minimum drink age in that country and if their leaders allow them. While many agree with Lynn’s basic idea, the proposal is a tough sell considering that the state would lose 10 percent of their federal highway funding (as stipulated by the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984). For Alaska, that would amount to around $50 million a year.

Georgia: In Statesboro, GA, a small town (less than 30,000 residents) about an hour’s drive from Savannah, will be officially become “dry” on May 1. While the county was partially dry before, lawmakers this time around mean serious business — or rather serious lack of business; all bars in the town will close, all retail supplies of liquor will be disposed of, and all college dorm rooms “will be thoroughly inspected to be sure that all alcohol is out of the city.” Kids, it might be time to put in that transfer request (and by “kids,” I mean any resident of the city since everyone is being treated like children).

Hawaii: At a state House Finance Committee hearing, restaurant owners, distributors, and consumers packed the room to say “no mahalo” to a proposal to raise the tax on beer, wine, and spirits by 20 percent on Monday. During the hearing on Senate Bill 741, many testified that the increased costs would result in less economic activity and lost jobs, but the Aloha State is facing a $200 million budget deficit for the next year and more than a billion dollar deficit over two years.

Maryland: At the end of last month, the state Senate voted in favor (27 to 19) of a measure that increased the sales tax on alcohol, every year, for the next three years, eventually bringing the tax in sync with D.C.’s alcohol levy. A similar proposal is under review in the House Ways and Means Committee, which will produce a final budget for the state by this Friday.

Minnesota: On Sundays in Minnesota, if you want to get a beer you’re out of luck unless you happen to live near the border with Wisconsin. One state senator, Roger Reinert, wants to allow those Sunday alcohol tax dollars to stay in Minnesota. Reinert introduced a bill in the state Senate that would do away with Minnesota’s antiquated “blue laws” and allow liquor stores to stay open on Sundays, possibly netting the state $10.6 million a year in tax revenue.

Also in Minnesota: Legislation that would allow brewpubs to bottle and sell their products to local retailers has been introduced in both chambers. The bills have support from many groups as both a stimulator of jobs and tax revenue in the state, as well as giving a wider audience to the states micro-breweries.

Pennsylvania: Currently one of only 17 states that bans shipping wine, Pennsylvania is considering legislation to change that. On March 22, the state liquor control board asked the legislature to modernize the state’s liquor laws and asked for doorstep deliveries of wine to be allowed. The following day, Sen. Larry Farnese introduced SB 886,which along with HB 110 would allow direct shipping. The bills aren’t perfect (they require, in some cases, that retailers purchase state-issued shipping licensing, pay state sales taxes, and limit the quantity of wine individuals may receive), but they are an encouraging step forward for a state that has been mired in Prohibition-era policies since, well, Prohibition.

Utah: Thousands of people are writing and calling their Utah state legislators asking that they not close state liquor stores. Under the directive, the state would save $2.2 million and leave residents in some towns with no place to buy liquor without driving farther distances. In Utah, the only place to purchase liquor (apart from bars) is in state-controlled stores. One easy way the state could save (and in fact raise) money and keep constituents happy: get rid of the state-controlled system. Close all state-stores and allow private stores to sell liquor. Of course, this is Utah we’re talking about.

Virginia: Beginning July 1, Virginians will be able to bring their own bottles of wine into restaurants that allow it and are licenses by ABC. Restaurants can charge a “corkage fee” to open the bottle of between $10 and $75.

Washington: The states newest attempt at “privatization” of liquor sales would retain state stores for purchasing by consumers while leasing the distribution to a private company for 20 years.

his year’s version is House Resolution 1161, the Community Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act. The new CARE Act, if passed, could end direct shipping of wine and other forms of alcohol in the United States, or at least put major roadblocks in front of lawsuits by consumers and wineries trying to reduce restrictions on direct shipping.