In a flurry of activity not seen since immediately after the end of Prohibition, state legislatures around the country are working on amending laws governing the sales of spirits, wine and beer in response to their need to raise revenues to finance state operations.
The latest activity is in Delaware, where the pros and cons of a bill that would allow supermarkets to sell wine and beer is going hot and heavy.
The predictable lines have been drawn in the sand, with proponents saying it will raise more revenues for the state and give consumers more choice and opponents saying it would cost more in closed small businesses and lost jobs than it would help in other ways.
The same debate is waging in New York State concerning wine sales in supermarkets. Beer has long been sold there, but this is the second attempt in the current legislative session to broaden the regulations.
Plus, several weeks back, New York increased taxes on beer by about 28 percent, from 11 to 14 cents a gallon, and about 58 percent on wine, from 19 to 30 cents a gallon.
Here’s a quick rundown on sales-related legislative actions in other states:
• In Alabama, Gov. Bob Riley has signed into law a bill that raises the permissible alcohol limit on beer from 6 to 13.9 percent by volume. That will allow a much wider selection of beers to be sold in stores, restaurants and taverns.
• In Wisconsin, the state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has proposed allowing the state’s makers of spirits to provide samples and sell their wares on site. Analysts expect the budget to be approved by the full Legislature. Wisconsin’s wineries and breweries already may provide samples and make sales to people who visit their facilities. Some wineries have said that if the proposal is adopted into law, they will distill wine into brandy.
• In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has signed into law a piece of legislation that allows distilleries to serve free samples on premises, just as wineries have been allowed to do.
• In Tennessee, production of distilled spirits is legal in only three counties. However, a bill approved in the state senate – with a companion bill awaiting a House vote – would allow other counties to approve distilleries if they have approved retail package sales and liquor-by-the-drink sales through voter referendum.
• In Washington state, liquor prices will increase on August 1. The current markup on liquor sold in the state is 39.2 percent. Under the new rules, it will be 51.9 percent. The increase does not apply to beer and wine products.
• In Vermont, Gov. Jim Douglas has signed a bill allowing wineries and distilleries to sell more products on-site. Previously, wineries could offer tastings or sell bottles of wine. Distilleries could do neither. Now, wineries also may sell glasses of wine on-premises, and distilleries can offer tastings and sell bottles of their spirits. In addition, wineries will be allowed to sell and offer tastings of other winemakers’ wares, rent their sites for events such as weddings, and produce and sell fortified wines such as ports.
William M. Dowd covers the global world of adult beverages at billdowd.com.