Alcohol Regulation Roundup: May 9, 2011

While some states seem to never change at all, this Monday’s Alcohol Regulation Roundup highlights some pleasant possibilities on the horizon.

Georgia: At the end of April, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed the bill approved by the state houses, which will allow local governments to add referendums to elections — putting it up to the voters to decide if they want their town to overturn the statewide ban on Sunday sales of alcohol in convenience and grocery stores.

New Mexico: Governor Martinez approved a Senate bill that gives the green light for residents of the state to have wine directly shipped to their homes. New Mexico was the last state not in compliance with the Supreme Court’s 2005 Granholm v. Heald decision. Beginning on July 1, 2011, wineries will be allowed to apply for $50 annual shipping permit and ship up to two nine-liter cases of a wine a month to residents of the state.

New York: The state assembly has passed a bill that will allow small brewers to get out of contract with distributors, overturning a long-standing lopsided system wherein wholesalers effectively hold craft breweries hostage while neglecting their product. Currently, New York law forces breweries to contract with only one distributor, giving them exclusive rights over their products. However, breaking the distribution agreement with a wholesaler is a long and expensive process — so expensive that many small brewers have no choice but to watch their product languish. That might change this year.

Last year, the Assembly passed a similar bill only to have it vetoed by Gov. Paterson. With Andrew Cuomo now in office, the new bill might have a shot. It would allow brewers that make up less than 3 percent of a distributor’s business to get out of the contract with that distributor after paying a fee for the “fair market value” of the loss of distribution rights.

Pennsylvania: As reported in Wine Spectator magazine, Pennsylvania is one of several states considering legalizing direct wine shipping for residents.  No less than four bills related to alcohol regulation have been introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature, all of which allow for direct shipping of wine. According to quotes from Terri Cofer of the Wine Institute, the state’s Liquor Control Board has had a “change of heart” and now supports direct-to-consumer-sales.

I suppose the PALCB knows that during these tough economic times that they could soon be on the chopping block, despite their pathetic attempts to appear as a good use for taxpayer dollars.

Tennessee: While the state legislature killed a bill that would have allowed grocery-store wine sales (for the 5th year in a row) this week the House approved a bill allowing direct wine shipping in the state and the bill is now headed to the governor, who is expected to sign it into law.

Utah: Utah’s dumb “hide the bartender” mandate that went into effect in 2010 has been keeping big chain restaurants, money, and jobs out of Utah. While national chains opened 16 new restaurants in the state in 2009, seven in 2008, and 14 in 2007, since the passage of the mandate requiring bartenders to be hidden from view, only two big chain restaurants have obtained liquor licenses in the state.

Washington: On Friday, April 29, 2011, Governor Gregoire signed HB 1465 into law, which will create more freedom and variety for beer-lovers in the state. Among other things, the new law allows breweries to become authorized to sell other domestic beer (before they were only allowed to sell their own beer) for on or off-premise consumption. Also, bottle shops can now fill “growlers” for take-away consumption of domestic beers.