Retailing

Utah Partially Repeals Its Weak Beer Laws

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In December of last year, R Street’s Jarrett Dieterle took to the pages of The Salt Lake Tribune to call on Utah politicians to scrap the state’s ‘weak beer’ law, which forbids grocery stores from selling beer over 3.2 percent alcohol by weight. According to the Tribune, Utah lawmakers have reached a deal to raise the limit to 4.0 percent, although they were unable to secure a full repeal:

Utah lawmakers have struck a deal to let higher-alcohol beer be sold in Utah grocery and convenience stores.

House members signed off on the measure Wednesday by a 61-14 vote, sending the bill back to the Senate for a final vote that is expected to occur Thursday.

This second substitute bill would boost the cap on retail beer from 3.2 percent to 4 percent by weight, a level that would include the majority of beer that already is in retail outlets, said bill sponsor, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton…

The initial version of SB132 would have hiked the alcohol limit on retail beer from its current 3.2 percent by weight to 4.8 percent. Utah’s predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, opposed that plan.

Last week, that proposal, which already had been approved by the Senate, was gutted by a House committee and replaced with language that would create a task force to study the issue.

Wednesday’s version is a blend of the two bills. 

Read the rest here.

R Street: It's Time for Texas to Permit Sunday Liquor Sales

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We recently discussed West Virginia’s passage of legislation legalizing Sunday liquor sales, and now Texas is considering doing the same thing. R Street’s Josiah Neeley, a resident of the Lone Star state, wrote for the American Spectator about why Texas lawmakers should embrace this reform:

Texas laws governing alcohol have their own quirks. Take Sunday sales, for example. Texas is one of a handful of states that maintains a ban on certain types of alcohol sales on Sundays. Whatever the original motivation of the Sunday sales ban, the current version is so shot through with exemptions as to make it arbitrary and senseless. Sales of hard liquor on Sunday are prohibited, but only if they are for off-site consumption. Bars can still serve hooch, and stores can still sell wine and beer. It goes without saying that you can still buy as much liquor as you want on Monday through Saturday and then drink it on Sunday…

Folks who favor economic liberty want these anachronistic rules wiped away. Meanwhile, voters worried about Texas’ public coffers can also take heart—permitting drinks sales each day of the week may generate more sales tax revenue. And consumers certainly would like these needless hassles eliminated.

While modest, bills like these are a sign that Texas’ attitudes towards liquor aren’t encased in amber. Times change, and the laws governing drinks should reflect that…

Read the whole piece here.

Connecticut Considers A Pair of Beer Bills

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After anti-brewery legislation that would have forced state brewers to choose between off-premises and on-premises sales was killed earlier this year, Connecticut lawmakers are now considering several pro-beer bills. According to the Hartford Courant, these would include bills to increase the amount of off-premise beer brewers can sell and allow larger retailers to sell beer in the state:

Advocates for craft brewers and distillers, distributors, restaurants and package stores showed up a legislative hearing Thursday to voice their concerns and support regarding several proposed bills they say will have an impact on their businesses.

Key among the proposed legislation is a bill that would increase the amount of beer craft brewers can sell for off-premises consumption from 9 liters to 23 liters per day…

Another proposed change would allow big-box stores such as Target and Walmart to sell beer…

Read more here.

Texas Legislature Considers Reforming "Blue Laws"

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Under current Texas law, liquor stores (but not grocery stores and other retail outlets) are prohibited from opening on Sundays. According to ABC 7, state lawmakers are considering repealing this antiquated blue law:

New legislation introduced in the Texas House would repeal so-called "blue laws" and allow liquor stores to open on Sunday.

State Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, has introduced House Bill 1100, which would allow package stores (a.k.a. liquor stores) to be open seven days a week…

42 states allow the sales of spirits on Sunday. Texas already allows Sunday sales of all other alcohol beverages for all other retailers, including bars, restaurants, clubs, grocery and convenience stores and hotels…

Read more here.

R Street's Jarrett Dieterle Explains Tennessee Wine v. Blair SCOTUS case

Oral arguments were held yesterday in the important Supreme Court case challenging Tennessee’s durational residency requirement for liquor licenses (for more on how the oral arguments went see here). The case involves the intersection of the U.S. Constitution’s 21st Amendment and the Dormant Commerce Clause, and R Street’s Jarrett Dieterle filmed the following short explainer video about the case for the Federalist Society:


SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments In Tennessee Wine v. Blair

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On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the important alcohol case challenging Tennessee’s durational residency requirement (previously discussed on DrinksReform.org here). The Tennessee law at issue requires liquor retailers in the state to have had an in-state presence for 2 years before they will be granted a license (and an in-state presence of 10-years in order to be able to renew the license each year). According to the Washington Post, several of the Justices expressed skepticism toward the Tennessee law:

Supreme Court justices indicated Wednesday that they thought Tennessee’s tough residency requirements for those who want to run liquor stores have more to do with protecting in-state economic interests than guarding against the evils of alcohol.

But they also wondered how far they could go, since the Constitution gives states an especially pivotal role in regulating booze…

Several justices, most vocally Sonia Sotomayor and Samuel A. Alito Jr., were skeptical.

Under questioning, [Tennessee Wine attorney] Dvoretzky said neither a 10-year residency requirement nor a hypothetical requirement that an applicant’s grandparents be residents would be a violation of the dormant-commerce clause, nor even a statute that said the restriction was for the “exclusive purpose of protecting in-state retailers.”

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh said the text of the constitutional amendment gives the states power over the “transportation or importation” of liquor into their states. “Why isn’t that most naturally read to allow states to remain dry . . . but not to otherwise impose discriminatory or, as Justice Alito says, protectionist regulations?” [More here].

As the popular SCOTUSBlog noted, however, it’s still unclear how the case will ultimately come out since several of the Justices were silent and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was absent from the hearing. A final decision from the Court is expected by the summer.

For more on the case and what it entails, check out this explainer video R Street’s Jarrett Dieterle filmed with the Federalist Society.

The Good and Bad of Recent Colorado Alcohol Reforms

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Colorado’s recent reform to allow grocery stores to sell beer stronger than 3.2 percent took effect on January 1st of this year. While this ushered in a much-need change, Derek Draplin for Watchdog.org detailed another provision of the reform that’s more problematic (and interviewed R Street’s Jarrett Dieterle about is as well):

Other parts of the new law could spell trouble for smaller retailers, such as those in rural areas or mom-and-pop restaurants that currently sell carry-out cans of 3.2 percent alcohol beer in addition to serving beer.

SB 243 eliminated "on-off premise licenses," which allowed retailers to sell beer for consumption off-site, like a 6-pack of the 3.2 percent beer, and also sell and serve beer, like at a restaurant. The new law requires retailers to pick between the two types of licenses.

Small mom-and-pop retailers like The Last Stand in Weldona now face a tough choice if a legislative fix doesn’t come soon…

Jarrett Dieterle, director of commercial freedom policy for the R Street Institute, which runs the alcohol policy website DrinksReform.org, told Watchdog that flexible licensing schemes are important for localities and states to adopt.

“In general, states and localities should consider ways to increase the flexibility of alcohol licensing options,” Dieterle said. “Creating more flexibility and less rigidity in licensing schemes would allow different types of establishments to adopt models that work for them and their communities.”

Read the rest here. A bill to fix this problem and allow on/off-premise beer licenses in rural areas was just introduced in the Colorado legislature.

It's Time to Repeal Utah's 'Weak Beer' Law

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Utah is one of just two states in the country that permits grocery stores to only sell beer with 3.2-percent alcohol content or less. R Street’s Jarrett Dieterle took to the pages of The Salt Lake Tribune to call on Utah lawmakers to repeal this outdated restriction:

As Utah lawmakers begin the 2019 legislative session, they may be forced to finally confront one of the state’s most notorious legal relics. Utah remains one of only two states in America to forbid grocery convenience stores from selling beer containing more than 3.2 percent alcohol. Any beer with a higher alcohol content — which, in this era of craft brewing, is most modern beers — can only be sold at state-run liquor stores. Utah legislators would be wise to recognize this law for what it is: A woefully outdated rule that handicaps market forces and limits consumer freedom.

So-called “weak beer” laws trace their heritage back 85 years to the end of Prohibition. In an underappreciated historical moment, President Franklin Roosevelt and Congress passed a law called the Cullen-Harrison Act March 22, 1933, nearly nine months before Prohibition was officially repealed. The act allowed states to pass legislation that would permit the production of 3.2-percent beer — a big step forward at a time when alcohol production was prohibited across the country. The Cullen-Harrison Act was eventually superseded when Prohibition was repealed in toto, but many of the state-level 3.2-percent beer laws it permitted stayed on the books.

Over the last several decades, more and more states have taken steps to repeal these laws, but Utah has remained a stubborn outlier…

Read the rest here

Florida "Wall of Separation" Finally on the Way Out?

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As covered on DrinksReform, Florida failed to repeal its law requiring a separate retailing location for distilled spirits sales in grocery stores. But after the failed repeal, the law was challenged in front of an administrative judge, who according to WCTV, has now ruled against the law:

You might soon see whiskey next to the Wheaties in big box stores thanks to an administrative law judge’s ruling, but advocates for traditional liquor stores say the ruling is a far cry from putting an end to the debate over where hard liquor can be sold.

For at least the past five years, dozens of lobbyists have worked lawmakers to allow the sale of hard alcohol in big box stores instead of from a separate storefront. Last year, it passed by one vote, but was vetoed by Governor Rick Scott.

Trying a new strategy, Walmart and Target turned to an administrative law judge, successfully challenging a rule that defined items customarily sold in restaurants…

The state could also choose to appeal. In that case, the ruling would be put on hold until it gets a second look from the First District Court of Appeals.

We reached out to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation for comment, but did not receive a response.

Read more here.

Mini Bottles of Alcohol Banned in Massachusetts Town

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We recently highlighted an article by Wayne Curtis on the history of mini bottles in America and the various government efforts to regulate and ban them over the years. Now comes news from the Boston Globe that the city of Chelsea, Massachusetts is banning them, blaming the bottles for the city’s public drunkenness problem:

This city wants to take a bite out of its public drinking problem. Well, a few nips, anyway. And the liquor industry is fighting back.

Chelsea this year became the first municipality in Massachusetts to ban the sale of the ubiquitous little liquor bottles, blaming them for contributing to public drunkenness in the downtown area it has worked hard to revive.

In pulling nips from store shelves last March, the city took a step that many others have considered without any real success, given the opposition from the package store industry.

Not surprisingly, the clampdown has sparked a backlash from Chelsea’s liquor stores, which have appealed the ban to the state, arguing it was approved without any evidence the stores themselves have done anything wrong…

Read the rest here.