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04.16.2010

Are You A Wine Lover? Then Call Your House Representative. Now.

I've been known to spout an opinion now and again about the Three Tier alcohol distribution system in this country, and the maddening array of ridiculous regulations that govern our ability to purchase alcohol. Mostly, however, I stay out of the fray because I'd rather write about, and I'm sure you'd rather read about, fantastic wines.

But something happened yesterday that sent chills down my spine, and made it imperative that I broadcast to as many of you as possible the urgent need to call your Congressional Representative immediately. When you get one of their aides on the phone here's what you need to say:

Under no circumstances should they vote for a house bill HR 5034: The Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act of 2010.

This bill, introduced by representatives Bill Delahunt (D Mass) Mike Quigley (D Ill.), Howard Coble (RN. C.) and Jason Chaffetz (R Utah), was purportedly authored by the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

This bill, which you can read in its entire three short pages, is available here (PDF).

The bill is insidious in its simplicity. It would make it effectively impossible to challenge any state's laws about alcohol distribution or direct shipping by forcing the challenger to prove that any particular law "has no effect on the promotion of temperance, the establishment or maintenance of orderly alcoholic beverage markets, the collection of alcoholic beverage taxes, the structure of the state alcoholic beverage distribution system, or the restriction of access to alcoholic beverages by those under the legal drinking age.''

In other words, as long as any state can prove that its laws produce tax revenues or prevent children from buying alcohol, those laws, no matter how discriminatory, anti-competitive, or anti-consumer cannot be overturned by a legal challenge by any party or any act of Congress.

Under their usual guise of trying to "protect the children" from an "epidemic of alcoholism" the liquor wholesalers lobby has introduced a bill that effectively keeps the alcohol laws of this country an affair to be settled by state legislators and their wholesaler lobbyist friends.

This bill must be stopped. It effectively prevents any progress towards fixing the antiquated and consumer unfriendly alcohol shipping laws in this country.

Please call, write, e-mail, and otherwise hound your Congressional Representative and tell them to vote against this bill. Here's the easiest way to find, and contact your congressperson.

This is serious business. If this bill passes, consumers will have lost the ability to fight in the courts for laws that allow them to buy the wine they want, where they want.

Read what the Wine Spectator has to say about the bill.

Comments (26)

Chris Lopez wrote:
04.17.10 at 12:29 AM

This is pretty scary stuff. I will be contacting my representative on Monday.

Tom Johnson wrote:
04.17.10 at 6:16 AM

I don't get the panic about this law. It does nothing to overturn existing direct shipping laws. All it's doing is attempting to decide the question of whether the Commerce Clause or 21st Amendment governs the shipping of alcoholic beverages between states. Congress has little power to decide fundamental Constitutional questions; that's the job of the courts.

I, personally, think it has more to do with raising campaign cash than anything else, as I write here. Only a fool tries to predict the actions of Congress, but fool that I am I'd bet this law doesn't even get to the floor. It'll hang around for a while, generating lobbyist and other contributions and giving reps a moment to demonstrate their dedication to key constituencies, and then fizzle out.

Alder Yarrow wrote:
04.17.10 at 9:10 AM

Tom,

While it does nothing to overturn existing direct shipping laws, it quite surgically prevents any anti-direct shipping laws from being changed by legal challenge. That is a HUGE deal. I hope you're right about this bill fizzling out, but why take the chance? If this law passes it would be a disaster.

mlthomas wrote:
04.17.10 at 1:51 PM

The treachery here is that the distribution sector has no direct involvement with policing under-age drinking, while, all direct shipping of wine now requires adult signatures at the shipping destination.

Chris Miller wrote:
04.17.10 at 2:34 PM

The whole concept here infuriates me. I have been researching this since first reading it in the Spectator but have been following it since mid-march. Go here to see who sits on the committee that allowed this drivel to be heard in the first place - http://judiciary.house.gov/about/subcourts.html - go here to see the witness list and see documentation http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/hear_100318.html

Bee wrote:
04.17.10 at 7:29 PM

This could be a big deal. I have spoken to several local winery owners and they already don't ship out of state because they already feel like they are being taken to the cleaners with the way the states charge fees to allow out of state wineries to ship to their states.

Monte Mast wrote:
04.17.10 at 9:51 PM

Here was my letter:

Congressman McCaul,

I am writing you about H. R. 5034. As an avid wine drinker, I am very concerned about provisions outlined in this bill. I am a staunch supporter of our Texas wineries but I also like many wines produced in California. My favorite wine is pinot noir, a varietal that is essentially non-existant in Texas since it prefers cooler growing conditions. Many of my favorites are only available from small producers (less than 3000 cases) who are not available in Texas by the choice of distributors, not the choice of the wineries.

Provisions in H. R. 5034 would essentially eliminate my access to those wines. The only way I would be able to bring these wines back to Texas to enjoy would be to travel to California and drive them back to Texas myself since I would not be able to even ship them to my home.

Why? Because distributors want to protect their own business. I like to drink pinot noir priced about $40 a bottle. That bottle's wholesale cost is roughly $20. The distributor want his $10. That in itself doesn't bother me. It's the tactics and justification used that really make me upset by this legislation.

There is no doubt that this resolution is largely written and sponsored by distribution lobbyists. As someone who has worked in Texas helping craft legislation regarding education policy, I understand how this process works and this is clearly written by someone "in the business" rather than by a legislator. The two parts that make it obvious are as follows:

1. There are provisions that all but eliminate legal recourse if this passes. Could this be more obvious? Write a piece of legislation that gives your side what they want and at the same time makes it impossible for the other side to fight back. My eight year old son ( who asked me what I was doing writing you) understood how wrong this was when I substituted Lego, Lego Club and Target for Wine, WInery and distributor. My second grader may be smart, but it is pretty bad when he can see how this legislation is flawed.

2. The tactic of getting the legislation passed under the guise of "minor's access to alcohol." Let me phrase it this way - can the sponsors of this bill give you an example of a 17-year old in your congressional district mail-ordering a bottle of $40 California pinot noir so he can get drunk on a Saturday night? Phrased that way, it sounds pretty preposterous doesn't it. However, that is essentially the basic reason that the bill's author's want you to vote for this repressive legislation. I'll make you a deal. For every documented case of underage purchases of alcohol made though the mail (that were not made by members of distributor's families) that you can document in your district prior to the day that legislation was filed, I will give you a bottle of that $40 pinot that I will no longer be able to purchase if this legislation passes. I figure at the most, I'll be out a single bottle. I would guess that there will be more "minor in possession" citations issued around the Texas A&M campus tonight than there are instances of minors mail-ordering alcohol across the entire United States in 2010. It is simply a thinly veiled scare tactic that belongs with unicorns, Bigfoot and the grassy knoll.

I urge you to give this bill a resounding NO vote if it sees a vote. As a conservative, this is exactly the type of unnecessary governmental intrusion and special interest legislation you campaigned against. Please stay true to your philosophy and vote no on this legislation.

Monte Mast

Anthony wrote:
04.19.10 at 12:45 AM

Thanks for the heads up Alder.

The Vin Man wrote:
04.20.10 at 5:30 AM

What about the shipping of firearms? Gosh, isn't it possible to have a gun wind up in the hands of a minor? We should prohibit that too if we're worried about the efficacy of the "Adult Signature Required" requirement of carriers.

http://www.ups.com/content/us/en/resources/ship/packaging/guidelines/firearms.html

I'd like to see these congressmen try and take that away, imagine the howling. But hey, it's about the children, a kid might get a gun if this practice is continued. This whole notion of "kids might get booze" is a complete canard as long as GUNS and AMMO are allowed to be shipped.

04.25.10 at 7:18 PM

As a new online wine retailer based in California, I am infuriated by the mere proposition that such a bill may get passed. The strictures that currently dominate the interstate shipping system in the US are archaic enough as is! I've established my business with the hopes that more states will open up in the future, allowing me to reach more customers. I sincerely hope that HR 5034 gets stopped, so that as an industry, we can further democratize the system as opposed to falling into a major regression.

04.26.10 at 12:18 PM

Thanks for the heads up -- tweeted, and will call.

04.27.10 at 11:01 AM

"The bill is insidious in its simplicity." That's exactly what it is. Consumer protection is the last thing the wine industry needs. We're perfectly capable of looking after ourselves. All this will do is smother the innovation that smaller wineries provide and fill the shelves with more jug wine schlock.

Lindsey wrote:
09.03.10 at 9:03 PM

Another great website to visit is http://www.freethegrapes.org where you can send an automatic letter to any of your congressional representatives who support HR 5034 (or you can draft your own version).

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