Alcohol Regulation Roundup: Independence Day Edition

Hopefully, this Independence Day weekend you liberated some nice libations from their containers. As Founding Father Ben Franklin said, “there can’t be good living where there is not good drinking.” If he’s right, then this week’s alcohol regulation roundup would probably bring a smile to old Ben’s mug — as the changes in most states’ alcohol laws mean that the quality of life in this country is clearly improving.

Alabama: At the end of May, the Alabama legislature approved the Craft Brewery Modernization Bill after much effort from the state-based beer rights group Free The Hops (FTH). Just last month, Governor Robert Bently signed the bill into law, allowing breweries to give visiting patrons a taste while they tour the brewery. Unfortunately, another bill that would have allowed residents to brew for at-home consumption without a license (illegal only in Alabama and Mississippi), failed to make it through the legislature.

Kansas:* When it comes to selling alcohol to patrons, convenience and grocery stores in Missouri are restricted to 3.2 percent ABV beer and wine coolers. Liquor stores may sell liquor and wine, but are banned from selling groceries. However, efforts to change the outdated laws are underway. Republican Senator Tim Owens has been pushing a bill that, if passed, would abolish both prohibitions, allowing grocery stores to sell full-strength beer and liquor and permitting liquor stores to sell grocery food items.

Maryland: Good and bad news for Maryland’s drinkers, as laws passed earlier in the year went into effect last week. Liquor taxes went up by 50 percent, with projected revenue increases of $85 million. On the positive side, the state’s new laws allowing direct shipping for wine also went into effect.

Michigan: A bill that would eliminate a 1.85 percent sales tax on distilled spirits is making its way through the Michigan legislature.

New Jersey: Jersey vineyards are the latest bystander caught in the crossfire between states and federal regulating wine shipping. Since December, when the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that New Jersey’s wine laws were unconstitutional, the state stopped issuing licenses to vineyards. This follows a 2005 Supreme Court case, Granholm v. Heald, which held that state laws may not discriminate against out-of-state alcohol retailers. As a result of the legislature failing to reformulate their wine regulations to be in compliance with federal rules, vineyards without licenses are left with stocks of wine they literally can’t give away.

New York: The debate continues as to whether grocery stores ought to be allowed to sell wine.

Ohio: Ohioans will have to wait for stronger beer in their state. While there was reason to hope that the state would finally raise the cap on alcohol content in beer from 12 percent to 18 percent, the proposal was removed from the budget bill at the last moment by the General Assembly. Governor John Kasich signed the budget bill last week.

Pennsylvania: Republican Rep. Mustio introduced legislation that would prevent the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) from raising prices or fees on liquor sales without legislative and executive prior approval. The PLCB has come under much scrutiny in recent years for its bumbling attempts to retain control over liquor, wine, and beer distribution in the state — despite push-back from legislators and a new governor interested in privatization and consumer choice.

Also in PA: A bill introduced last month would give the PLCB authority to open as many stores as it chooses for Sunday sales and extend their Sunday hours from noon until 9pm. Currently, they must close by 5pm.

Also in PA: Gov. Corbett signed legislation that allows bars in the state to have happy hours for up to 4 hours a day so long as they sill comply with the 14 hour per week limit. Prior to the new legislation establishments were limited to 2 hours of happy hour a day.

Tennessee: Some legislators in the statehouse are working hard to bring Tennessee’s liquor laws into the 21st century. In the last legislative season, lawmakers approved a bill allowing beer of up to 20 percent ABV in the state, allowing liquor retailers and restaurants to offer free samples of alcoholic beverages, and direct shipment of wine. It doesn’t seem that the modernization will end there. While a bill allowing wine in grocery stores failed, it doesn’t appear that lawmakers will give up on modernizing the state’s liquor laws anytime soon.

Utah: As of last Friday, July 1, bars in Utah were banned from offering discounts on alcoholic drinks, including happy hour pricing. The ban comes as a result of a bill passed last March, and folks in the state’s hospitality industry are not at all happy about it. The Utah Hospitality Association has filed a federal civil lawsuit against the state.

Virginia: In Virginia, the new corkage laws passed earlier in the year are in now in effect. This means that restaurants are allowed to charge a corkage fee for patrons wishing to enjoy with their meal a bottle of wine purchased outside of the restaurant. The bill sets no minimum or maximum fee that restaurants may charge.

Wisconsin: The Badger State “beer wars” continue to boil over in major media. Many in the media are tying the recent labor disputes in the state to the legislature’s recent passage of a bill, pushed by MillerCoors, that would protect their wholesale operations, limit competition, and hamstring small brewers. As I wrote last month, MillerCoors says that they are interested in protecting the little guy from a potential AB/InBev state takeover, but their motivation is clearly to protect their own business from competition big and small.

*The original post erroneously identified the state in question as Missouri. Thanks to commenter Dick Stoffer for catching it.