In short, yes, for a couple of reasons:
1. Wineries already pay sales tax in most states
2. The vast majority of wineries will likely be exempt from the law
So what is it, exactly?
Senate Bill S. 743, more commonly known as the “Marketplace Fairness Act“, is a pretty simple bill that would give states the ability to require out of state businesses that have “remote sales” in excess of $1 million annually to remit sales taxes. Each state would be able to opt in to the Act, but only after they have simplified their tax structure, either by joining the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement or to follow the steps outlined in the bill to simplify their sales tax requirements.
Will it pass?
With broad bi-partisan support, S. 743 passed out of the Senate with a vote of 69 to 27. However, a tough battle is expected in the House, and therefore the Marketplace Fairness Act has a long way to go before it is enacted with a signature from President Obama. Amazon.com is supporting the bill (presumably because they would like to move forward with their plans to build warehouses in each state to support same-day shipping), while eBay is one of the main voices in opposition.
What will it mean for wineries?
A lot hinges on the definition of “remote sales”. Keep in mind the fact that state legislation to allow wine shipments typically includes a provision that also requires wineries to register for and pay sales tax. As it stands in the Senate version, and based on our interpretation of the current language, sales by wineries to states where they are already required to pay sales tax would not be counted when considering the $1 million threshold for remote sales.
Based on some quick analysis, there are a few hundred wineries in the US that ship more than $1 million worth of wine to consumers each year. BUT, if you include sales only to those states (Alaska, Colorado, D.C., Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Wyoming) that do not require wineries to pay sales tax, then we estimate that less than 25 wineries would exceed the $1 million cap. In other words, the vast majority of the 7,000+ wineries in the US would be exempt from this law.
Wineries are already accustomed to calculating, collecting, and remitting sales taxes in most states. So, for those wineries that would not be exempt from this law, it would probably not be that big of a deal to add a few more states (initially the states of Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, and Wyoming) to the list of states to which they would be required to remit sales tax. They already have the technology and processes to do so.
The bill would take effect, at the earliest, on October 1st, 2013. Once effective, the 22 “Streamlined” sales tax states would begin requiring sales tax for remote sellers with over $1 million in sales. After that, each of the remaining 28 states would choose whether to opt in to the Act and start requiring sales tax from remote sellers.
This time of year always brings a flurry of legislative activity, and 2011 is no exception. The Granholm v. Heald Supreme Court ruling from 2005 is still having its impact on many states. 27 states are currently considering some form of direct shipping legislation, and at least 44 more have considered some sort of tax bill that would affect wineries. While legislation can change quickly and no outcome guaranteed, what follows is a summary of the most important direct shipping legislation as it stands as of today.
Marylanders have long awaited a bill that would allow direct wine shipments into the Old Line State. This past Tuesday, both the Senate and the House acted on all three direct shipping bills proposed in the current session. The Economic Matters Committee both withdrew HB 234 and passed as favorable, HB 1175. SB 248, the counterpart to HB 234 (introduced not long after the Direct Wine Shipment Report by Maryland’s Comptroller, in support of winery direct shipping), was also passed as favorable, but includes amendments, touted as a “compromise”, which removed in-state and out-of-state retailers’ ability to ship direct to consumers. Additionally, the customer volume limits are now set to 18 liters per household per year (down from the original 24 cases per individual per year, as was initially introduced), the permit cost has increased to $200.00 per year, and the bond security increased to $1000.00. As introduced, HB 1175 also made no allowances for direct shipments from retailers. The Senate and House bills are scheduled to be presented for a third reading today on the floor of the House. Amendments concerning a new study on retailer shipping and the ability of Maryland retailers to ship Kosher wines to Marylanders will likely be introduced on the House floor.
If direct shipping legislation passes this year, New Jersey could open up to wineries for direct shipments for the first time. S 766 and counterpart A 1702 would allow permitted wineries to ship up to 24 cases annually. S 766 passed the Senate on 2/4/2010. The Assembly bill remains in the Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee, which is chaired by the bill’s lead sponsor, Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli. Burzichelli is also the lead sponsor of another, less desirable, direct shipping bill (A 3897) that would impose a capacity cap of 250,000 gallons on direct shippers. A3897 is also waiting for a vote in Committee. It remains to be seen if the recent Freeman decision will complicate the bills that are on the table.
Florida is currently open to direct shipments from wineries. The state’s previous direct shipping legislation was found to be unconstitutional under Granholm and was overturned in a 2005 court ruling under Bainbridge, et al. v. Turner. For the fifth time in six years, direct shipping legislation is being considered in Florida (no bills were considered last year). As introduced, HB 837 and counterpart SB 854 would allow wineries (not retailers) to ship directly to consumers. The bill contains severely onerous restrictions that would prevent most wineries from obtaining a permit or shipping into the state, including a 250,000 gallon production volume cap (capacity cap), bond, and a mandate to give wholesalers a year’s notice that the winery plans to direct ship.
HB 837 was voted on and determined “favorable” by the Business & Consumer Affairs Subcommittee on March 22, 2011, and is now in the Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee.
There are several problems with Massachusetts’ existing unworkable direct shipping laws. The 30,000 capacity cap restriction was found to be unconstitutional by the First Circuit Court in 2010, but other statutes regarding customer aggregate volume limits and carrier licensing remain in effect, and need to be updated in order to truly open the state to direct shipping. HB 1029 and HB 1883 would address these issues and would allow permitted wineries to ship wine to consumers. Both bills were referred to the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure in February, and still have a ways to go before becoming law.
Currently, only wineries that have not had a relationship with a distributor in the past 120 days can obtain an Indiana direct shipping permit, and wine can only be shipped to Indiana residents who have previously visited the winery in person. Two bills in the current legislative session aim to remove these restrictions and open up direct shipments in Indiana to many wineries that are currently unable to get a permit. HB 1081 would remove the requirement for an initial face-to-face transaction, as well as remove the restrictive wholesaler relationship provision in the law. A similar bill, HB 1132, was also introduced in January of 2011, but has been amended to become a study “concerning the viability and efficacy of instituting a policy to permit the direct shipment of wine to consumers in Indiana.”
Rhode Island remains closed to offsite direct wine shipments. SB 170 would create a direct shipping permit and allow shipments of up to 24 cases of wine per year, per resident from permittees. On March 23, 2011 the Senate Special Legislation Committee recommended the measure be held for further study.
Pending legislation in Tennessee would open up the entire state to direct wine shipments, eliminating the “dry” areas of the state that wineries are not allowed to ship wine into. The bill is currently on the calendar in both the Senate and the House.
At a hearing on March 22, 2011, the Liquor Control Board asked that the legislature “modernize” the liquor code. As part of the modernization, the PLCB asked that direct wine shipments to consumers’ doorsteps be allowed. Pending legislation (HB 110) would allow for a workable permit system. Thus far, the bill has yet to move out of the House.
Online instant processing of Florida label registrations is now available for any supplier of alcoholic beverages. Products sold to distributors must be registered before shipping into the state, however, direct wine shipments remain exempt from registration requirements. Florida’s new system has been up and running since July 15, 2010.
Suppliers who are licensed to sell alcohol in Florida must first register to use the system. The specifics of this licensee registration process are detailed in the first 24 pages of Florida’s lengthy step-by-step instructions.
After the supplier is set-up to use the system, they may log in to begin registering labels. The registration process of the labels themselves is fairly straight-forward—Florida’s online system asks for limited information about your label (product type, TTB ID, and label name). Based off of the TTB ID number that you provide, Florida then has the ability to obtain additional label information (label images, for example) from your TTB COLA.
The fee for registration remains the same: $30 for malt and spirits labels and $15 for wine labels, all of which should be renewed annually by June 30. Once registration fees are paid (via electronic check or credit card), the label is registered and the product can be shipped to Florida.
The paper registration form can still be filed as a substitute to online filing, avoiding the somewhat cumbersome licensee registration process, but there are several reasons why it makes sense to utilize the new online registration process instead of paper filing. Online label registration takes only a couple of minutes; no one likes to spend time hand-writing paper registrations. Perhaps the biggest benefit of online filing is that confirmation of the online registration is immediate; paper registrations can take up to 90 days to be approved.
More and more states continue to trend toward electronic services for convenience and efficiency (for taxes, reporting, license applications, product registrations, etc.). Florida’s online registration system is a step in the right direction; however, as new systems are made available, users must become acquainted with each individual online process. Still, after successfully navigating the process, this label entry system has the ability to make life easier for those registering labels in Florida.
When H.R. 5034 (also known as the Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness, or “CARE” Act) was introduced on April 15, 2010, the opposition responded quickly and forcefully. Supplier organizations were united in their opposition to the bill, referring to it as the “wholesalers monopoly protection bill”. Even the California State Legislature issued a resolution, SJR 34, that urged Congress not to pass H.R. 5034.
Proponents of the bill, including the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) and the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) claimed the proposed legislation was necessary to protect state-based regulatory systems from “attack” (i.e., legal scrutiny under the U.S. constitution), claiming that “25 states have faced challenges in federal courts to their authority to regulate alcohol and their ability to maintain a licensed system of alcohol controls” since 2005.
Following months of intense debate, heated rhetoric, and an incredible amount of public relations and lobbying activity on both sides, the House Judiciary Committee did not schedule the bill for a hearing until after the August congressional recess. During the recess, Representative Bill Delahunt, lead sponsor of H.R. 5034, sent a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., introducing new text in an what he terms effort to “perfect the language”, following “concerns about unintended [sic] consequences of the language as written”.
To help clarify the changes from the original version of H.R. 5034, we put together a redline document that highlights the revisions. The main change is the removal of section 3c, which established the presumption of validity and shifted the burden of proof in legal actions involving the regulation of alcoholic beverages. Like the original bill, the new version would immunize state laws that effect non-facial discrimination, such as capacity caps and in-person purchase requirements, if the discrimination were not proved to be “intentional”.
To better understand the revisions and the corresponding responses, we spoke with individuals from each of the tiers (the “three-tier system” includes suppliers, wholesalers and retailers) that are on the front lines of the debate.
Wholesaler organizations laud the new version as meaningful change. “While the proposed changes to the legislation address a narrower set of deregulatory concerns than the original legislation, it is certainly a step in the right direction,” says Karin Moore, Vice President and Co-General Counsel at WSWA. “The new version clarifies that the Granholm holding prohibiting facial or intentional discrimination against out-of-state producers remains the law of the land by incorporating the exact language used by Justice Kennedy in that landmark decision. The new language clearly and unequivocally confines itself to dormant Commerce Clause challenges, and addresses many of the concerns raised by opponents of the bill.”
Cary Greene, Chief Operating Officer & General Counsel at WineAmerica, sees broader implications. “There are many cases other than Granholm that elucidate how states can regulate interstate commerce in alcohol. As revised, 5034 would undermine or reverse dozens of court decisions. By scrambling settled case law, 5034 will cause years of re-litigation to try and figure out exactly what the new limits are. The fact is courts have not done anything to jeopardize core Twenty-first Amendment powers. State laws run into Constitutional trouble when they try to do something underhanded like fix prices or give an unfair market advantage to certain licensees or products. 5034 allows states to blatantly discriminate against out-of-state products without any concern for Twenty-first Amendment core purposes. From a policy standpoint, I’m not sure why that would ever be a good thing.”
“The problems with HR 5034 remain significant, despite the changes to the language,” says Tom Wark, Executive Director of Specialty Wine Retailers Association. “Discrimination against out of state products would still be allowed on a number of levels and consumers are bound to be hurt by this legislation. Significantly for retailers, HR 5034 would strip wine retailers and merchants everywhere in America of their protection under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause from discriminatory state laws. It has happened only one other time in American history that an entire industry lost its Constitutional guarantee of free and open markets based on the constitutional principle of non-discrimination. Wine merchants would be catastrophically disadvantaged by H.R. 5034.”
A hearing in the House Judiciary Committee will take place at 11:00 ET this Wednesday, September 29th. This is an important hurdle in the process of moving legislation through Congress. Expert witnesses will testify in front of the full committee on Wednesday, and many parties will also provide written testimony to debate both sides of the bill. Barring technical difficulties, the hearing should be available via live webcast. Click here to watch the webcast (RealPlayer required).
So, what are the chances that H.R. 5034 will pass? Well, it’s important to note that the bill has 146 (not an insignificant number) co-sponsors from both parties in the House. On the other hand, supplier organizations continue to be unified in their opposition (Click here to view the joint opposition letter issued by the Brewers Association, WineAmerica, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, Wine Institute, Beer Institute, and National Association of Beverage Importers on the revised 5034). We hope to learn a lot more in the hearing on Wednesday.
If H.R. 5034 moves through both chambers of Congress (no companion bill having yet been introduced in the Senate) and is signed by President Obama, not much would change overnight. Despite numerous reports that it would mean the end of direct shipping, it would not change current state laws that allow direct shipping. It would likely be an uphill battle to completely repeal existing direct shipping laws in most states. However, H.R. 5034 would open the door in states like Florida, New Mexico, and Massachusetts, where the direct shipping laws are in flux because of court cases and Granholm issues, for new state laws that introduce non-facial discrimination such as caps on production capacity (proposed for the last several years in Florida and recently nullified as unconstitutional in Massachusetts) or in-person purchase requirements. It would also provide discriminatory options for the remaining holdout states, such as Maryland, if their resident consumers’ support for direct shipment should become effective. With potentially greater long-term significance, it would tilt the field decidedly against extension of Granholm’s nondiscrimination principle to interstate retailing by non-producing shippers and to interstate wholesaling.
Product registration in Florida is about to become a whole lot easier. Beginning April 17, Florida Alcohol Beverage & Tobacco (AB&T) will introduce a new online processing system that will shorten wait times for product registration approvals from 80 days to 2 minutes. This will significantly improve the process for wineries that distribute through traditional 3-tier channels in Florida. By eliminating a nearly three-month waiting period for product registration approvals, wineries will be able to get products to market quickly and accelerate sales. Florida does not currently require product registration for direct wine shipments.
In addition to online product registration, Florida is developing an electronic data submission system that will allow for online filing of alcohol reports. AB&T expects to begin accepting electronic reports in August of this year.
The streak continues. Once again Florida lawmakers were unable to pass any direct-to-consumer bills. Legislators presented two distinct direct-to-consumer bills for the 2009 legislative session but both have failed to advance beyond committee. Senate Bill 764 (House Bill 245 is its counterpart), the more restrictive of the two, would have required an annual $250 fee, a $1,000 to $5000 surety bond, a maximum production limit (capacity cap) of 250,000 gallons and a 12 case per year shipping limit. The bill survived three committee votes, but did not make it out of the General Government Appropriations committee. Senate Bill 272 (House Bill 251) would have placed no limits on production amounts or annual case shipments and the license and bond fees were much more wallet-friendly at $100 and $500 to $1000, respectively. Since neither of the bills passed by Friday, May 1, four consecutive legislative sessions have failed to produce direct shipping legislation. The Florida battle has probably been the most intense battle between winery and wholesaler associations over the years.
As of now, there are no statutes in place that regulate direct shipping to Florida residents. According to present law, out-of-state vendors must remit excise taxes and not ship to the five dry counties, but there are no other binding regulations. With no bill passed this year, Florida remains open under the administrative control of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.