HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Whether legalizing machines that automatically dispense beer and wine or allowing Connecticut consumers to purchase wine from out-of-state retailers, there are many alcohol bills still on tap for this year’s General Assembly session.
With less than two months to go until their adjournment deadline, state lawmakers also must decide whether to pass Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s now-perennial proposal to scrap a decades-old law prohibiting retailers from selling wine and liquor below a minimum price. Ultimately, the concept could become part of a final state budget agreement, but its fate remains questionable.
Highlights of alcohol-related legislation still awaiting action until the last call for the session:
OUT-OF-STATE WINE SHIPMENTS
The legislature’s Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee will hear testimony Monday about whether to allow out-of-state retailers to ship wine directly to consumers.
Current state law allows consumers to buy wine directly from out-of-state wineries.
Tom Wark, executive director of The National Association of Wine Retailers, said specialty wine retailers across the U.S. receive calls and emails every day from Connecticut consumers requesting specific wines they can’t find locally.
“With this bill, both Connecticut consumers and the state benefit from a more open market that remains fully regulated,” he said.
But Larry Cafero, executive director of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Connecticut, said the bill would overturn more than 80 years of established policy in the state, where there’s a three-tiered system with a manufacturer, wholesaler/distributor and retailer. Both the manufacturers and the wholesalers/distributors are regulated by the state and federal government, which he said ensures there’s accountability with a special product that’s much different from other items that can be ordered online.
“When you don’t have that, you have pretty much the wild, wild west,” said Cafero, who contends Connecticut’s more than 1,250 retail outlets currently offer more worldwide variety of wines than many other states.
Under the proposal, out-of-state wine retailers could ship no more than five gallons of wine to any individual within two months. They would also collect state sales and alcohol taxes on each sale, report all sales and deliveries to the state and obtain an adult’s signature for each delivery.
Despite experiencing years of defeat, Malloy is still pushing to end Connecticut’s pricing system for wine and liquor.
“Changes to Connecticut’s outdated minimum bottle laws would benefit consumers by allowing arbitrary prices to be lowered to fair market value and would in turn generate more revenue for the state,” said spokeswoman Meg Green. “Governor Malloy remains committed to fighting on behalf of Connecticut consumers for fairer prices that benefit their bottom lines.”
Under Malloy’s proposal, retailers could sell wine and liquor based on the actual cost paid, not a minimum price above the wholesale cost that’s determined by the wholesalers.
The Connecticut Package Stores Association and Cafero’s organization continue to oppose the measure, saying it would hurt local merchants.
Cafero said Malloy’s premise that wine and spirits prices are not competitive with other states, such as Massachusetts, because of the minimum pricing system is wrong. He said the price difference between the two states is due more to taxes and policies that allow large retailers to purchase large quantities at a discounted rate from manufacturers.
“What the governor has done, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is cherry pick a very unique state and a unique retailer within that state to make this one-time spot comparison,” he said, adding how people buy more spirits per capita in Connecticut than in Massachusetts.
It’s now up to the Senate to decide whether to allow businesses with state liquor permits to offer automated machines that dispense beer and wine to customers.
Under a bill that cleared the House of Representatives last week, a person verified to be at least 21 years old can purchase a payment card and then obtain up to 32 ounces of beer or 10 ounces of wine. The beverage is dispensed in single-serve glasses.
Proponents say the machines are novelty items, allowing customers to sample different flavors in small amounts before making a final purchase. But opponents fear jobs could be lost and minors could access the alcohol.
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