State Sen. Jamin B. ‘Jamie’ Raskin, D-Montgomery, is the sponsor of the direct-shipping wine bill.
ANNAPOLIS — Supporters of vintner-to-consumer wine-shipping
legislation, while holding out hope for action this year, have settled
on a Plan B — a study of wine-shipping practices in other states they
hope will lead to a renewed effort next year.
At the same time, a less controversial winery bill,
the Winery Modernization Act, is poised for easy passage after cruising
back to the floor of the House of Delegates and Senate this week.
Despite the support of 106 members and majorities in
both houses of the General Assembly, the direct-shipping movement has
struggled in the face of opposition from powerful alcohol wholesalers,
distributors and retailers and one key senator. Wineries have, in large
part, stayed out of the fight to avoid raising the ire of the alcohol
“It’s a right that hundreds of millions of Americans
already enjoy,” said Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, the Montgomery County
Democrat who sponsored the direct-shipping bill, SB 566.
“I am very optimistic that we’ll have direct shipping
before the session is over,” Raskin added. “But, at the very least, we
wanted to get the comptroller’s report on direct shipping.”
The Senate, at Raskin’s request, added a shipping
study amendment to the modernization act and then gave the bill
preliminary approval Thursday.
“I’m fine with it [the amendment],” said Sen. Joan
Carter Conway, D-Baltimore, the sponsor of the modernization act who
opposes the direct-shipping legislation.
Conway said she still has concerns about direct
shipping. As chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and
Environmental Affairs Committee, she is in position to block any
attempts to push the legislation through the General Assembly this year.
Del. Dereck E. Davis, chairman of the House Economic
Matters Committee, said his panel will vote on the House’s
direct-shipping bill, HB 716, early next week.
The House gave the modernization act preliminary
approval Thursday without the study provision. The bill would clarify
what wineries can and can’t do, and ease entry into the wine-making
Davis said that if his committee does not pass direct
shipping, the House would likely take the Senate’s modernization bill
rather than forge ahead with its own modernization bill that does not
include the shipping study.
“I think it’s either going to be pass direct shipping or study direct shipping,” he said.
Thirty-seven states and Washington, D.C., allow
wineries to ship directly to their residents. Under the Senate version
of the bill, the comptroller’s office would study the effects of direct
shipping in those jurisdictions and report to the General Assembly
before next year’s legislative session.
Consumer advocates argue that direct shipping will
open up the fine wine market to Marylanders and ensure that the state
gets its fair share of the tax revenue. Legislative analysts anticipate
that revenues from the 40-cent-per-gallon excise tax on wine would
increase between $90,000 and $100,000 a year. Supporters of the bill,
however, put the number much higher — closer to $1 million.
Alcohol wholesalers, distributors and retailers say
direct shipping would increase underage drinking and hurt the
family-owned businesses that make up the state’s alcoholic beverage