Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Indiana House bills restricting consumer choice await Senate action as wholesaler lobby sharpens knives.

Wholesalers Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee compare middle-tier prattle at the Bistro Monopoly.

Last week, we stole a glance at Indiana’s General Assembly and two bills with potentially harmful ramifications for consumer choice in wine and beer purchasing.

Legislative update: Two Indiana House bills that restrict consumer choice by targeting small breweries and wineries.

HB 1190 (small winery sales) and HB 1250 (changes to the alcoholic beverage code that might or might not affect small breweries) both passed the House and will emerge in yet-to-be-determined form in the Senate.

About HB 1250, State Senator Connie Sipes promptly responded to my questions:

I received your information/education. This bill has many problems.
The bill now comes to the Senate, will go through committee and then to
the floor for a vote.

Meanwhile, with regard to the HB 1190 abomination, this article in the Indianapolis Star provides perhaps the clearest explanation yet of the legal issues and future stakes of legislation that clearly targets Indiana’s small wineries:

Will state wineries die on the vine?; Industry says bill halting in-state shipments could cripple it, by Bill Ruthhart (Indy Star)

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that states must treat all wineries equally, the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission decided to eliminate state wineries' right to ship their products to Hoosiers.

Nine state wineries then sued in Marion Circuit Court, receiving an injunction in November that allows them to continue shipping wine in-state until March 1 -- the deadline given for the General Assembly to solve the issue.

That has left Indiana lawmakers with a decision: allow all wine to be shipped to Hoosiers or none.

For now, legislators seem poised to choose the latter.

In essence, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that Indiana mustn’t have two different sets of rules with respect to shipping wine as such rules apply to in-state and to out-of-state wineries.

The state predictably responded by attempting to ban in-state shipments to winery customers, a practice of long standing, and was then sued on behalf of all consumers.

Subsequently, the ball was tossed into the General Assembly playpen, and as Ruthhart notes, so far it has shown an inclination to (a) be draconian with the little guys, and (b) mollify the ruffled feathers of Indiana’s wholesalers, who unlike their small winery counterparts, long ago learned the ropes when it comes to preserving their monopolies:

According to the reports filed with the state by the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Indiana Political Action Committee, from 2000 through 2004 the lobbying group gave $181,043.21 to Indiana politicians and candidates. Large and small, prominent and obscure, Republican and Democrat, the wholesalers who have been fighting direct-shipping have spread around an average of $36,000 a year.

That isn’t chump change, is it?

This useful information comes to us from Don’t allow money to tilt shipping vote, by Dan and Krista Stockman (Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette).

The wholesalers claim to base their opposition to direct shipping on the grounds that if allowed, mega-merchants like Wal-Mart would buy direct and cut wholesalers out of their three-tiered, middle-man role.

As if it were a bad thing.

While all this toxicity swirls confusingly around the heads of consumers, who merely want to be able to have a case of wine shipped to them by the small winery they visited while on holiday, the usual assortment of do-gooders and health fascists are chanting the same tired incantations against underage drinking, asserting with straight faces that we’re about to witness an epidemic of 16-year-olds paying $25 dollars for an Internet bottle of wine rather than handing their cash to Uncle Billy for a journey to the package store on the corner and two cases of Milwaukee’s Best … cold.

We’ve yet to hear from Indiana Governor "Someone’s Man Mitch" Daniels, who presumably would respond by privatizing something, somewhere.

The New Albany Tribune takes a look in this article:

Grapes of wrath: Area wineries call bill business-unfriendly, By Eric Scott Campbell, (News-Tribune).

And, finally, bookmarking the Indiana Law Blog is something that never goes out of season.

Ind. Law - Will state wineries die on the vine?

Remember to contact your State Senator and register your opinion. A compromise is needed here, and fast, before the General Assembly guts an entire industry with a single stroke of its legislative pen.

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