Grapes of wrath
The Baltimore Sun posted the article below about Sen. Joan Carter Conway's "unusual step of threatening not to allow the legislation to come up for a committee vote at all":
Grapes of wrath
Our view: Thwarting public opinion over wine law would be a serious mistake
February 9, 2010
In this volatile political
atmosphere, elected officials who act contrary to the views of voters
are likely to find the electorate unforgiving this November. It is a
powerful argument that Republicans have been using to great effect in
Washington: Polls matter.
Amazingly, Sen. Joan Carter Conway is
pursuing precisely that folly with her recent disclosure that she
opposes legislation to allow Marylanders to have wine shipped directly
to their homes. A majority of the public clearly favors the law, and
more than half the members of the General Assembly have signed on as
co-sponsors of the bill.
But Senator Conway, chair of the Senate
Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, is doing far
more than opposing the bill; she's taken the unusual step of
threatening not to allow the legislation to come up for a committee
vote at all.
Such a desk-drawer veto would not only thwart the
legislative process (six of nine committee members are co-sponsors) but
would demonstrate a political hubris with which Democrats ought not be
The Baltimore senator has said her chief concern is
that somehow the proposal would facilitate under-age drinking. She has
also suggested that it might be difficult for the state to collect
appropriate excise and sales taxes from out-of-state wineries.
neither claim holds much water, let alone wine. Shipping wine is legal
in more than two-thirds of states, where neither concern has
materialized as a serious problem.
The underage drinking claim
is particularly nonsensical. Under the proposal, United Parcel Service
and FedEx are the only two potential shippers, and both have proven
themselves reliable in states where wine shipment is permitted. Under
the law, their drivers must check photo ID of wine recipients to make
sure they are 21 years old - just as any clerk or waitress in a liquor
store, bar or restaurant must do.
Surveys have repeatedly shown
that minors find it far easier to ask an older friend or relative to
buy alcohol for them - and it's not usually the kind of boutique wine
that ends up bubble-wrapped in shipping boxes.
there are approximately 6,300 liquor stores, bars and restaurants where
a straw purchase can take place. Why would anyone wait a week for a
shipment for which they'd need an adult to sign?
Taxes have not
proven to be a serious obstacle in other states either. Wineries are
only too pleased to pay taxes to the state where a bottle is delivered
instead of where it was produced. It's all the same to them - even more
so in Maryland's case, given that the state hasn't raised taxes on wine
since the 1970s.
Certainly, there are more pressing issues
before the state legislature this year than making it possible for
average people to have wine shipped to them. The recession, falling
state and local tax revenues and projected budget deficits have left
many in Annapolis with important, albeit unpopular, choices to make.
But few issues better underscore why voters are suspicious of
government in Maryland these days: The heavy influence of the liquor
lobby, the coziness of regulators with the alcohol industry (Senator
Conway's spouse is a longtime Baltimore liquor inspector), and the
willingness of leaders to ignore the public's wishes.
Legalizing direct shipment is good for consumers and good for
Maryland's wine industry. Such obvious benefits easily trump the
objections of self-interested liquor wholesalers, retailers and even
regulators who seek to preserve Maryland's antiquated liquor laws. Woe
to any politician who thinks the voters won't notice such glaring
I live in Mount
Washington and don't understand why I can't join a wine-of-the-month
club but my brother, who lives in Fairfax, Va., can. Thanks for letting
me know it's the fault of my own state senator.
Where is this woman living? Oh, yeah, she represents arguably the
drug/murder capital of the country. No wonder she wants to focus on