NAPA, Calif.--()--In a positive sign for Massachusetts wine lovers, House Bill 294 is currently being considered by state legislators. H. 294 would replace an unconstitutional law with a proven solution, according to Free the Grapes, a national coalition of consumers, wineries and retailers seeking legal, regulated wine direct shipping.
“anti-consumer effect, as well as its dubious constitutionality”
Authored by Representative Theodore (Ted) C. Speliotis, H. 294 includes language similar to wine direct shipping laws in the majority of U.S. states. The bill requires the state to issue wineries a permit to ship wine directly to consumers. The wineries are required to pay excise taxes, report shipments and limit the amount of wine shipped to consumers, among other provisions. H. 294 is currently in the committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure and is expected to receive a hearing.
A Massachusetts law barring winery-to-consumer shipments from wineries producing more than 30,000 gallons per year and who retain Massachusetts wholesalers was ruled unconstitutional by District Court Judge Rya Zobel, and then affirmed by the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in January 2010. The legislature was expected to conform to the ruling by passing a bill similar to the model bill.
Free the Grapes! is calling on all Massachusetts wine lovers to support H. 294, to let their voices be heard by writing a letter to their state representatives using the group’s website, www.freethegrapes.org. The organization rallied wine lovers at the Boston Wine Expo in February and will be explaining the new bill at the Second Glass “Wine Riot” event on April 5-6, in Boston.
Additional bills seek to streamline shipments from common carriers, and to allow retailer direct shipping.
In 2005 Massachusetts House Bill 4498 was introduced and passed both the House and Senate. The bill was condemned for seeking to place conditions on out-of-state wineries that did not exist for Massachusetts’ wineries. No in-state wineries produced more than the 30,000 gallons, and they could sell directly to Massachusetts consumers as well as through state wholesalers. Out-of-state wineries over the 30,000 gallon cap would not have this option – they would have to either sell directly to consumers or through a Massachusetts wholesaler, if a wholesaler chose to represent them. Wineries that retained a Massachusetts wholesaler and produced more than 30,000 gallons were prohibited from direct-to-consumer shipping.
The Governor vetoed H. 4498 in November 2005 – commenting on its "anti-consumer effect, as well as its dubious constitutionality" – but the veto was overridden. In January 2006, the Governor introduced, but failed to pass, a separate bill similar to legislation working in many other states, commenting that “It’s time we end the monopoly that wholesalers have over wine sales…”
Instead of passing the Governor’s new bill, H. 4498, became law in 2006. On September 18, 2006, Family Winemakers of California v. Jenkins was filed, stating that current Massachusetts law violated the nondiscrimination principle of the Commerce Clause, which prohibits “laws that burden out-of-state producers or shippers simply to give a competitive advantage to in-state businesses.” (U.S. Supreme Court, Granholm v. Heald, May 2005).
In 2011, House Bill 1029 was introduced to correct the archaic ban and conform to Judge Zobel’s ruling, but it languished in committee through 2012.