AWCC’S POSITION ON PENNSYLVANIA DIRECT SHIPPING BILL HB 121:
Currently, Pennsylvania ranks as the most restrictive, most burdensome and most anti-consumer state for wine lovers. Not only does the state ban all direct to consumer shipments of wine and ban the convenience of purchasing wine in a grocery store, but also the state maintains a monopoly on the distribution and retail sale of wine.
To put it in stark terms, the state, not the free market, completely controls how Pennsylvanians may buy wine, which wines Pennsylvanians may purchase and where they may purchase them.
This year Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett made a substantial effort to get the state out of the business of selling and distributing wine. The bill he and his allies put forth would not only have put wine sales in the hands of the free market, but would also given wine consumes partial access to the direct to consumer wine shipping channels.
This effort failed before the General Assembly adjourned primarily due to the influence of state liquor store unions and their members’ efforts to stop “privatization”, as well as due to the issue being linked to other controversial issues.
However, in June HB 121, a bill sponsored by Representative Curtis Sonney, allowing direct to consumer wine shipments from out-of-state wineries passed the House by a 200-1 vote and is now sitting in the Senate’s Law & Justice Committee awaiting consideration, which is not likely to happen until lawmakers return in the Fall.
The provisions of HB 121 are:
1. Consumers may purchase and have shipped to them wine from in state and out of state wineries.
2. Consumers would be banned from ordering non-domestic wines currently for sale in other markets, wines sold at auction and wines provided by “Wine-of-the-Month Clubs due to a ban on out-of-state wine stores shipping to the state.
3. Consumers would be limited to having 12 bottles of wine per month shipped to them from any individual winery.
4. The State’s existing 18% “Jonestown Flood” tax that now applies to sales of wine at state-owbed stores would be slapped on the sale of wine direct from wineries as well as a 6% sales tax
HB 121 does not fully meet the AWCC’s criteria for a “Pro-Consumer” wine shipping bill primarily because it 1) bans the delivery of any imported wines from American wine retailers, and 2) limits too harshly the amount of wine that could be shipped from a single winery or retailer to a consumer in a given month.
In evaluating any wine-related bill, the AWCC takes a number of factors into account before it chooses to support or oppose the bill. Among those factors are the current conditions under which the state’s wine consumers are forced to operate. In the case of Pennsylvania, any improvement in the laws would be a huge improvement given the extraordinary burdens under which consumers in PA must currently operate.
All of AWCC’s research shows that direct-to-consumer shipments from wineries is the most important factor in consumers improving their access to wine. HB 121 allows this, though certain restrictions noted above dilute the impact of this bill.
This bill would meet our criteria for “Pro-Consumer” if the following changes were made to HB 121:
1. Allow the direct to consumer shipment of wines from out-of-state retailers in order to assure consumers had access to imported wines, rare wines, out-of-vintage wines, collectible wines and wine-of-the-month club shipments, all items that are sold only by U.S. retailers alone.
2. Increase the amount of wine that a consumer could order from a single winery to 3 cases in any given month.
3. The removal of the 18% “Jonestown Flood” tax on shipped wines.
One thing is clear with regard to Pennsylvania’s wine consumers. They deserve and require improved access to the wines they want and without improved access they will continue to be severely burdened under the most arbitrary, restrictive and archaic collection of anti-consumer wine access laws in the nation.
Given this need, the AWCC will be supporting HB 121 and at the same time strongly arguing for amendments to the bill to make it much more consumer friendly. In particular, AWCC will make the case that retailer to consumer shipping is a critical to consumer interests.
RECOMMENDED ACTIONS BY AWCC MEMBERS AND NON-MEMBERS
1. Residents of Pennsylvania ought to immediately contact the members of the Senate the Law & Justice committee to express their concern that HB 121 ought to be amended to allow shipments from out of state retail stores. Those committee members with linked email addresses are:
Sen. Alloway, Richard L., II, Vice Chair
Sen. Scarnati, Joseph B., III, Ex‑Officio
Sen. Erickson, Edwin B.
Sen. Rafferty, John C., Jr.
Sen. White, Donald C.
Sen. Yaw, Gene
Sen. Fontana, Wayne D.
Sen. Tartaglione, Christine M.
Sen. Williams, Anthony H.
2. Wine lovers and consumers not living in Pennsylvania ought to familiarize themselves with HB 121 and the reasons it needs amending. Additionally, they ought to contact any friends, family, and colleagues in Pennsylvania, alert them to HB 121 and urge them to contact members of the Senate Law & Justice Committee to urge to amend then pass HB 121