Alabama

Alabama Looking to Allow Curbside Service

R Street's Cameron Smith has been a strong advocate for improving Alabama's alcohol laws. The state's newest proposed rule change could do just that by allowing curbside delivery. Per Al.com, they even struck a requirement in the rule that mandates a minimum store size for this service:

Unless lawmakers intervene, Alabamians later this year could get their beer and wine without having to enter a store.

The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board this week approved a rule change allowing grocery stores that offer online ordering to let customers place an order for beer or wine and have it brought to and loaded into the customer's vehicle.

The board Wednesday made one change to the original proposal, striking a requirement that the grocery be at least 30,000 square feet or more. Now, the curbside pickup rule applies to any size store that offers online ordering and meets other requirements, ABC spokesman Dean Argo said Thursday.

Read more about Alabama's booze delivery here.

Alabama Lawmakers Consider Reforming State Liquor Mark-ups

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In recent years, the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has become notorious for trying to sneak through increased mark-ups on booze in the state. As R Street's Cameron Smith exposed last year, Alabama ABC attempted to institute a 5% increase in booze mark-ups to provide more funding for state district attorneys. Using liquor mark-ups in this way essentially turns the mark-ups into a stealth tax on state residents, and R Street has called out this behavior by state liquor regulators in the past (our policy report on the issue can be found here).

Luckily, some lawmakers in Alabama are now trying to fix this system of unaccountable taxation by introducing a bill that would require any increase in the state liquor mark-up to be approved by the state legislature. Cameron Smith recently wrote another column for AL.com about this much-needed attempt to inject accountability into the process:

"If Alabama's legislators want to raise taxes, they should cast a vote to do so. They shouldn't be able to cut a deal between public employees and the state's liquor bureaucracy to avoid accountability at the ballot box. Sadly, that's exactly what happened in 2017, and State Sen. Bill Holtzclaw's SB120 aims to stop it...

SB120 simply prevents future ABC markups without a bill enacted by the Alabama Legislature. It's not a complicated bill, but it absolutely restores accountability for revenue policy decisions to the people Alabamians actually elect.

Alabama is in the minority of states retaining a 'control' model for liquor. Apparently the state's 'conservative' legislature would rather preserve a prohibition-era bureaucracy than fund the DAs properly, meet other spending needs or simply let Alabamians keep a little more of their hard-earned money.

But this is an election year. Hope for any real changes to Alabama's liquor control system is little more than wishful thinking. Maybe the Alabama Legislature will at least take responsibility for the taxes we pay on alcohol..."

Read the whole column here.

 

 

 

Alabama Lawmaker Seeks to Allow Direct Wine Shipments

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The Alabama legislator is currently considering a bill that would legalize direct shipments from wineries to consumers in the state. The proposal is likely to face resistance, reports ABC 33/40:

"A push is underway to allow wine shipments directly to Alabama homes.

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia already allow this option to consumers, according to The Wine Institute.

At Ozan Winery in Calera, Chris Smith sells the vineyard’s award winning wine to people across the county. But he faces a problem when Alabamians want wine shipped directly to their homes...

Wednesday, a Senate committee meeting was scheduled to have a public hearing on a bill by Sen. Bill Holzclaw (R- Madison) that would allow the direct wine shipments.

Committee chairman, Sen. Phil Williams (R- Rainbow City) says Holtzclaw asked lawmakers to wait a little longer, probably so he could work out some issues on the bill before the vote.

There was a list of opponents ready to speak, including Joe Godfrey who represents a group of churches..."

Read the rest here.

 

 

Alabama ABC's Twitter reads like somebody's been drinking

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R Street's Cameron Smith takes a look at the Alabama ABC's Twitter account. The results are equal parts hilarious and befuddling:

"Alabama's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) is a bit of a contradiction in terms. By it's own admission, the ABC exists to ensure "high revenue with low consumption." It's little more than contradictory booze magic if any of us bother to think about it.

Increased consumption means increased revenues. Decreased consumption means the opposite. With that kind of contradiction, it's no wonder that the ABC's Twitter account is a bit tipsy.

Just take a look at 2017 so far..."

The whole piece is well worth reading.

 

R Street's Cameron Smith on the Free to Brew Podcast Talking About Margarita Pitcher Bans

As covered extensively on DrinksReform.org, R Street's Cameron Smith led the recent charge in Alabama to reverse the state ABC's crackdown on margarita pitchers at restaurants within the state. The Free to Brew podcast invited Smith on as a guest to discuss the whole episode and how such alcohol reform successes can be duplicated in other states:

Joining the show is Cameron Smith general counsel and vice president of implementation for the R Street Institute, where he oversees how R Street implements and communicates the policy solutions its experts develop. He also handles a wide range of the institute’s legal matters...

Cameron explains how his team was able to, almost overnight, pressure the nannies in Alabama to reverse their decision and let consenting adults voluntarily purchase pitchers of Margaritas once again.

Also how we can replicate the success R Street is having!

Check out the podcast episode here.

Alabama ABC reverses margarita pitcher ban but questions remain

As recently covered on DrinksReform.org, R Street's Cameron Smith called out Alabama's ABC about its state-wide crackdown on margarita pitchers. In a new piece for AL.com, Smith recounts the whole episode and discusses how the legal standard at issue is still far from clear:

The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) didn't want you wasting away in Margaritaville, so they banned pitchers of the frozen concoction outright. Then I called them out on it, Alabamians pressured the agency, and the ABC reversed the pitcher ban...I think

In reversing the ban, ABC spokesman Dean Argo announced, "The Code speaks to beverages that are 'customarily' served in pitchers." That's a true statement even if it's found in a different section from the one the ban relied upon.

He continued to note, "The menus of many restaurants and bars in Alabama already offer several beverages by pitcher." That's a fuzzier claim, because Argo told me unequivocally "that only beer may be served in a pitcher." According to his statement, pitchers of other alcoholic beverages might have appeared on menus, but the ABC considered them unlawful. 

Argo concludes the ABC's announcement by saying the "updated interpretation should give licensees the flexibility they need to meet the needs of their customers, while maintaining the integrity of the original rule." 

Well that's clear as mud...

Read the whole column here: http://www.al.com/opinion/index.ssf/2017/07/alabama_abc_reverses_margarita.html

 

Alabama Backs Down on Targeting Margarita Pitchers

In these hot summer months, nothing refreshes like a Margarita. But in Alabama, the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board had banned pitchers of this limey and refreshing libation. Seriously.

R Street's Cameron Smith exposed the ban and advocated for its repeal in AL.com after a series of email exchanges with ABC representatives:

"The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) doesn't want you wasting away in Margaritaville, so they've banned pitchers of the frozen concoction outright.

No, I'm not joking.

But we shouldn't be surprised. This is the ABC that cracked down on people drinking while dining on the sidewalks in Mobile. It's the same ABC that cut a deal to impose a five percent liquor mark-up to help the legislature and the governor enact a back-door tax hike.

Now the agency has taken to reminding licensees of its legal "interpretation" that beer is the only alcoholic beverage that may be served in a pitcher..." [Read the rest here].

ABC claimed it was concerned with the tequila in margarita pitchers "settling" over time, which could lead to situations where the first few drinks poured from the pitcher had less alcohol than the ones from the bottom of the pitcher. As Smith pointed out, this amounted to an argument that a group of legal adults "can't figure out how to handle a pitcher of margaritas shared among them."

Smith's column generated enough outcry among Alabama residents that Dean Argo, ABC's government relations manager, took to AL.com to announce that the board would no longer target margarita pitchers. In short, ABC has backed off, at least for now. (The Associated Press also covered the reversal).

While this was a clear win for margarita lovers across the state, Argo ominously suggested that the state may still draw a line between which types of drinks can be served in pitchers and which cannot. The dividing line would appear to be if the drink in question is "customarily" served in pitchers. So, margaritas and beer would seem to be safe, but what about less clear cases like mojitos? Mojitos are certainly served in pitchers sometimes, but is it "customary" to serve them that way? And how about bottled cocktails, which have become all the rage in the cocktail world? Are they a "pitcher," and if so, are they "customary"?

The ABC's decision to draw the line at what types of drinks are "customarily" put into pitchers is the type of ambiguous legal phrase that only a government lawyer could love. Call it "pitcher ambiguity," and suffice it to say the DrinksReform.org team will be the first to blow the whistle if more pitcher shenanigans go down in Alabama.

Note: Cameron Smith has also been tracking and writing about the Alabama ABC's attempt to enact a stealth tax increase by increasing the state liquor mark-up: http://www.drinksreform.org/blog-1/2017/6/21/alabama-abc-board-approves-increase-in-liquor-markup

Alabama legislature and Gov. Ivey pass bottle on tax hike to ABC Board

Alabama's ABC Board recently approved a 5-percent increase in the state liquor markup, with the proceeds scheduled to go toward funding state district attorneys and courts. R Street's Cameron Smith attempted to unpack the logic behind the Board's decision but found it lacking:

We don't need the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) in Alabama. It's a bureaucratic dinosaur waiting for its extinction-level event. Now, the ABC has done the dirty work of raising taxes for the Alabama Legislature and Governor Kay Ivey.

The ABC approved a 5 percent "markup" on liquor on June 14, 2017. The measure is expected to raise $8.2 million next year. The Alabama legislature conditionally earmarked $6 million of the increase for district attorneys and $2.2 million for the Unified Judicial System.

Don't believe for a minute this is a routine action by the ABC.

Over the last several decades, two of Alabama's 67 counties--Marshall and Calhoun--successfully passed "local bills" imposing a 5 percent tax on liquor above the fees and taxes collected by the ABC and the state. Many other counties have tried to pass similar measures and failed.

The ABC suddenly believes the relatively insignificant price disparity on a bottle of liquor in Alabama is a problem worth addressing.

"The change in mark-up will keep the price of a bottle (except in Calhoun and Marshall counties) basically the same everywhere in Alabama, and negates the need for the local sales tax bills," wrote ABC Board spokesman Dean Argo.

Let me parse out that logic...

Read the rest here: http://www.al.com/opinion/index.ssf/2017/06/legislature_and_gov_ivey_pass.html

R Street's Cameron Smith also previously wrote about this markup, pointing out that it was in fact a stealth tax on booze: http://www.drinksreform.org/blog-1/2017/5/16/will-alabama-gov-kay-ivey-un-bentley-the-abcs-liquor-tax-hike

Will Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey Un-Bentley the ABC's liquor tax hike?

R Street's Cameron Smith wrote about Alabama's attempt to smuggle a tax increase into the state budget through the vehicle of a liquor markup. As Smith points out: "The point of the ABC isn't to craft state budget policy with its markup authority. In fact, there's a pretty good argument that the ABC doesn't really have much of a point at all." The whole thing is worth reading:

The bureaucrats of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) are poised to pass a legally-suspect tax hike, and the Alabama Legislature is complicit. The only question left is whether Gov. Kay Ivey will "un-Bentley" the ABC's pending tax hike before it's too late. 

Let me explain what I mean.

If there were ever a champion of ABC's unnecessary bureaucracy, it was former Gov. Robert Bentley. He repeatedly opposed the efforts to get Alabama out of the liquor business. Whether it was overhauling the whole system or more discrete efforts like Sen. Arthur Orr's (R-Decatur) plan to eliminate the ABC's retail operations, Bentley claimed that any change would lessen the ABC's ability to enforce Alabama's liquor laws. The former governor's sentiment fell a little flat when he actually undermined the ABC's ability to enforce liquor laws by moving ABC's law enforcement capacity to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) in 2013. 

Bentley's oversight of the ABC continued to raise eyebrows when he demonstrated his lack of fiscal conservatism by giving ABC Administrator Mac Gipson an 80% pay increase that Gipson didn't even request. 

Maybe Gipson thought the pay increase included new responsibility because the ABC is now meddling in state budget policy. More specifically, the ABC is poised to impose a 5% tax hike on liquor to pay for a specific line item in Alabama's General Fund budget...

The rest can be found here: http://www.rstreet.org/op-ed/will-gov-kay-ivey-un-bentley-the-abcs-liquor-tax-hike/

 

Senate committee in Alabama legislature approves home wine delivery bill

Legislation allowing direct-to-consumer wine shipments is on the move in the Alabama state senate. Brian Lyman reports the story for the Montgomery Advertiser:

"A Senate committee Wednesday approved a bill that would allow Alabamians to have wine shipped directly to their homes.

The Senate Financial Responsibility and Economic Development Committee approved the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, on a 6 to 4 vote. The bill goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Under the legislation, people over the age of 21 in Alabama could have up to 24 cases of wine shipped to their doors each year. Shippers would need to obtain licenses from the Alabama Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board, and out-of-state shippers would have to pay all applicable taxes on the alcohol..."

Read more at: http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/politics/southunionstreet/2017/04/19/senate-committee-approves-home-wine-delivery-bill/100671028/