Industry, Consumers at Odds Over Direct Wine Shipping Bill
The Daily Record Newswire
Feb. 4, 20011
Legislation that would allow Marylanders to receive shipments of wine is headed for another tug-of-war between the alcohol industry and consumers who want more choices when choosing their vino.
Some key lawmakers say the bill would hurt in-state liquor stores, distributors and wholesalers, and the powerful liquor lobby is lined up once again to fight the legislation on that point.
Supporters, however, say prospects have improved in 2011 for the perennial Annapolis issue. The twin bills, SB 248 and HB 234, are backed by 84 delegates and 32 senators, majorities in both chambers.
“Something is going to pass this session,” said House Economic Matters Committee Chairman Del. Dereck E. Davis. “I don’t know what. There [are] two chambers, a lot of opinions.”
The effort, backed by majorities in both houses last year as well, fizzled in Davis’ committee, failing by one vote. Davis, a Prince George’s County Democrat, has signed on to the bill this year, along with House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel. Direct shipment of wine is allowed in 37 other states and Washington, D.C., and lawmakers tasked the state comptroller with studying the issue last year. Direct shipping has been debated in Annapolis for at least 30 years and Maryland is one of only three states, along with Utah and Kentucky, that treat the shipment of wine to consumers as a felony.
Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, the Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, rated the bill’s chances this year as “excellent.”
But the chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, which will handle the legislation, said, “The bill definitely needs to be modified.”
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore City, was critical of the bill last year and was criticized during her primary campaign for her stance on the bill. She did, however, benefit from a total of $4,000 in donations from Nevada Fine Wine & Spirits and Arizona Fine Wine & Spirits.
Conway said she still has many of the same concerns. The bill “impacts the retailers in a negative manner,” she said.
In addition to wineries, the bill would allow retailers, both in-state and out, to ship wine in Maryland.
“It’s a non-starter,” said Bruce C. Bereano, a lobbyist for the Licensed Beverage Distributors of Maryland, Inc. Bereano added the industry is working on other changes that could tighten shipping requirements to ensure that only the person who ordered the wine receives it.
And Conway said that only wine that can’t be found in Maryland stores should be able to be shipped in the state.
“This issue is about Marylanders who, in their travels outside the state, find a wine in a winery that they like, but is not available in Maryland. That’s understandable,” Bereano said. “This is not about letting out-of-state liquor stores cannibalize the businesses in Maryland.”
Indeed, the comptroller’s report suggested that retailers not be included in the shipping legislation.
Supporters didn’t budge on retailer provision, arguing it is key because it will allow them to ship gift baskets, older vintages and “wine of the month club” offerings that wineries don’t offer.
“That’s where we’re going to have the Battle of Gettysburg,” Raskin said. “We have to get over the idea that people should succeed in business through monopolies instead of fair competition.”
Delegate Jolene Ivey, who is lead sponsor in the House, said, “This is the bill that’s going to pass.”
“You help consumers the most by giving them the most choice,” said Ivey, a Prince George’s County Democrat. “It’s not a cutting edge thing, way out there. The people that use it aren’t buying rotgut. They’re not just trying to save a buck.”
Adam Borden, president of Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws, said allowing retailers the right to ship wine would help high-end wine stores by allowing them to expand their customer base in the state while allowing the state to collect taxes.
“It gives more choice to consumers,” he said. “It also creates a legal framework for an activity that already goes on in the state, but the state doesn’t benefit from.”