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Is the Marketplace Fairness Act Fair for Wineries?


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.

7 Tips for Getting Better at Age Verification for Wine Shipments in 2013

Verifying the age of online wine purchasers and shipping recipients is perhaps the most important and responsible task any online wine seller can engage in. Age verification not only protects your own licenses, but it supports the entire industry as being responsible and it protects against minors obtaining alcohol illicitly. As the new year approaches, direct wine sellers should make every effort to improve by incorporating one or more additional age verification tools into their direct selling protocols. What follows is a 7-point list that offers a variety of ways you can use age verification in the coming year to protect yourself, the industry and minors.

As you’re making the new years resolutions for your business, think about adding age verification to the list. I’d like to challenge each of you to do a better job at age verification in 2013. It will be easy, and we’ll help you through it. Please pick at least one item from the list below that you are not doing currently, and add it to your direct shipping program starting January 1st.

  1. Require the common carriers (FedEx, UPS, GSO, etc.) obtain an adult signature upon delivery
  2. Add an age affirmation gate on your website/store/mobile app
  3. Collect the date of birth of the purchaser
  4. Collect the date of birth of the recipient for gift shipments
  5. Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the purchaser in Georgia, Kansas, Ohio, and Michigan
  6. Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the purchase for orders to all states
  7. Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the recipient for all gift orders


Require the common carriers (FedEx, UPS, GSO, etc.) obtain an adult signature upon delivery
This is a requirement for all wine shipments. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Work with your carrier to understand how to make sure your packages properly labeled for alcohol and ensure they’ll check ID and get an adult signature upon delivery.


Add an age affirmation gate on your website/store/mobile app
This is a pretty simple tool that will go a long way. Add a feature to your site that forces the visitor to affirm that they are of legal drinking age by checking a box prior to entering your website, shopping cart, or mobile application. Last time I mentioned this at a seminar, I got a few calls from some eCommerce companies saying that would damage the search engine optimization (SEO) for the products in the store. My response: you’re smart, figure it out! There’s got to be a slick way of enabling the age gate while also preserving the SEO of your site.


Collect the date of birth of the purchaser
If you’re going to add an age affirmation tool to your website/store/mobile app, why not take it one step further and collect the date of birth of the purchaser at that point? Alternatively, ask for the date of birth when the purchaser adds wine products to their cart. You’re going to need it at a minimum to include on the direct shipping reports due in Wisconsin, Michigan, and the four counties of Hawaii. You’ll also need it for audit purposes in New York and most of the states that you are shipping into, and it will also make for a much stronger match rate on your age verification checks when using an online provider (see below for details). States will typically require that you keep your records for two years for audit purposes, so we often recommend that you hold onto your data for at least 3-4 years just to be sure. Remember that dates of birth are very sensitive from a privacy perspective, so be sure to store them securely in your files.

Example: www.chandon.com


Collect the date of birth of the recipient for gift shipments
For gift shipments, you’ll also want to collect the date of birth of the recipient. You’ll need this on the shipping reports due in Wisconsin and the four counties of Hawaii, and it will also result in a much stronger match if you decide to do age verification on the recipient. One thing to note here is that the purchaser will often not know the date of birth of the recipient. So, you don’t necessarily have to collect this at the time of transaction, but make sure you have your processes designed such that you can follow up and get the DOB of the recipient prior to shipping.


Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the purchaser in Georgia, Kansas, Ohio, and Michigan
The states of Georgia, Kansas, Ohio and Michigan all have some kind of requirement for verifying the age of the purchaser. The easiest way to meet these requirements is to use an online age verification provider. ShipCompliant integrates with both Lexis Nexis (formerly ChoicePoint) and also IDology, both of which have been approved by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission. These services run about $.50 per check (per customer), and do not need to be repeated for subsequent purchases from an individual that has already been confirmed to be of legal drinking age. When running an online age verification check, you’ll need the purchaser’s name, address, and optionally date of birth. As mentioned above, if you include the date of birth you’ll get a much stronger likelihood of matching the individual in the age check provider’s database.


Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the purchase for orders to all states
Wine Institute and Free the Grapes! both have codes that establish that (from Free the Grapes!’ code for direct shipping) “licensees must verify the purchaser’s age at the point of online purchase before completing any transaction.” Most of the bigger wine companies are therefore choosing not just to run an online age verification check in the four states that require it by statute, but to run online checks on the purchaser in all states that they ship to.


Use an online age verification provider to verify the age of the recipient for all gift orders
For gift shipments, you can also consider running an online age verification check on the recipient. Even though the common carrier will ask for identification and a signature for the person that actually signs for the package upon delivery, some wineries take a conservative approach and choose to run an age check on the recipient as well for gift shipments, especially on gift orders that originate from third party marketers.

Hawaii Amends Due Date for Gallonage Tax

Effective July 1, 2010, the filing and payment due date the Hawaii Gallonage Tax, will change from the last day of the month to the 20th day of the month. Wineries shipping to consumers in Hawaii are required to file a “Combined Monthly Return of Liquor Tax and Report of Wine Gallons and Dollar Volume of Taxable Sales” (Form M-18) and pay gallonage tax to Hawaii’s Department of Taxation each month. Please see the document, “Announcement No. 2010-02,” issued by the Department of Taxation for additional information about changes to the payment of taxes in Hawaii.

By Annie Bones, State Relations – Wine Institute

Hidden Costs of Direct Shipping Licensing

Before jumping into a direct shipping program in a new state, wineries should consider their current prospect list, market potential, shipping difficulty and costs. When it comes to calculating start-up costs to enter a new state, there is often more than meets the eye. In addition to license fees, wineries may need to budget for a number of “hidden” fees including bonds, label registration fees and other application fees.

Bonds

Some states require wineries to obtain a bond in order to secure a direct shipping license. A bond is a written guaranty, purchased from a bonding company (usually an insurance firm or a surety company), to guarantee that all taxes due will be paid to the state. If there is a failure to pay, the bonding company will make good up to the amount of the bond.

Bonds for direct shippers range from $500-$1500 depending on the state, but premiums, or out-of-pocket costs, to wineries typically average around 10% of the total bond price, or $50-$180 out-of-pocket on an annual or biannual basis. Different bonding agents may quote different rates, so it pays to shop around.

Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Texas and Wisconsin all require that wineries secure a bond before submitting your license application. For wineries that ship 40,000 gallons or more annually, Oregon issues a bond document after the license application has been received but before the license is issued. Wineries that ship less than 40,000 gallons to Oregon annually can apply for a bond wavier.

Label Registration

Several states require brand or label registrations for direct shipping. Ohio, a state that 26% of direct shippers have in their program, requires wineries to register all the labels that will be shipped into the state for a one-time registration fee of $50 per label.

If that sounds pricey to you, consider Connecticut who charges $200 per label and requires labels to be re-registered every 3 years if they are still actively shipped into the state.

Georgia, Michigan, New York, North Carolina and Virginia do not charge a fee though label or brand registration is required in these states.

Application Fees

Some states may require business, Secretary of State or tax registration, or other one-time application fees. This varies from state to state and depends on how your business is structured. Wineries that start shipping to Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia or Wisconsin may encounter one or more of these fees.

License, bond, label registration and application fees all factor into the true break-even costs of shipping to a new state. The key to ensuring a profitable direct shipping program is to research thoroughly in order to avoid getting caught off-guard with unexpected costs.

Reporting Madness

Hello and happy holidays from the ShipCompliant team! We’ve been a little quiet as we prepare to help all of our winery and retailer partners prepare for the big storm of reports that come due in January. Wineries that ship to all of the possible states for direct shipping can owe over 500 reports each year, depending on their filing frequencies with the state ABCs and Departments of Revenue. In January, all but one (for some reason, one of the New York reports is filed on a non-standard quarterly basis that starts on December 1st) of the reports come due. So, all other monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, and annual reports come due in January.

Tasting room, wine club, accounting, and compliance managers all get very busy just after the first of the year preparing their data for the annual reporting rush. A key to making this endeavor a success is to collect and maintain good, clean data from all of your direct to consumer order sources, including eCommerce, wine club, tasting room, and administrative orders. Many of the reports require copies of invoices or schedules of shipments that list order details. Also, remember that the three states that have abbreviations that end in the letter I (HI, MI, and WI) also require dates of birth on their reports.

Here’s to a happy new year and a successful reporting rush!

Free the Grapes! Legislation and Litigation Update

From Jeremy Benson at Free the Grapes! :

Free the Grapes! Media Update
August 2007

Now that we’re at the end of most state legislative sessions, we thought it timely to provide an update on direct-to-consumer (DTC) wine direct shipping as of month-end July 2007. Here are some highlights, followed by a more detailed description.

Highlights:

o DTC legislation was considered in 23 states;
o Two states transitioned from reciprocal to a DTC permit system (MO, WV) with additional states pending (OR, IL).
o The legal direct shipping states for wineries represent 78% of wine consumption in the U.S., although retailers can reach far fewer states.

Wins:

  • Florida: the third largest state for wine enjoyment, remains a legal state for winery shipments after a fierce defense of the court order that allowed shipping;
  • Hawaii: a concerted effort to reduce quantity limits failed;
  • Missouri: transitioned from reciprocal to permit status (no fee);
  • North Dakota: increased shipping quantity limits;
  • Virginia: now allows Internet retailers without a physical presence to direct ship;
  • West Virginia: replaced reciprocal status with permit bill.

Losses:

  • Arkansas: DTC permit bill failed in committee;
  • New Mexico: reciprocal transition bill failed due largely to opposition by wholesalers and the beer lobby;
  • Georgia: effort to replace cumbersome law with permit bill failed;
  • Texas: passed a law limiting DTC shipping from in-state retailers outside their particular county;
  • Ohio: passed potentially unworkable permit system for DTC shipments, including capacity cap of 150,000 gallons;
  • Legal rulings supported the on-site sale requirement in ME, and opposed a challenge to TN’s shipping prohibition.

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
Wine Institute provided significant input to the following summary of state activity this year.

States with Legislation Under Consideration

Wisconsin – For 20 years, Wisconsin has been a reciprocal state, allowing its consumers to purchase wine directly from wineries as well as in-state wine retailers. But consumers will lose these privileges if the Budget Bill passes as it is currently written. Anti-consumer provisions were slipped into the Senate version of the 384-page, $66 billion, two-year Budget Bill in mid-July. The conference committee will now reconcile differences in the Senate and Assembly versions of the budget bill.

Illinois – House Bill 429 passed both House and Senate and is before the governor for signature. It creates a winery-only DTC shipping permit that replaces the existing reciprocity law. The Specialty Wine Retailers Association was unsuccessful in securing an amendment continuing shipments from out-of-state retailers, although in-state retailers were successful at maintaining their in-state shipping privilege.

Additional States

Alaska –House Bill 34 (Ledoux) would specifically allow in-state wineries to make DTC shipments to AK consumers, with a 5-gallon per shipment limit. Status: passed House and Senate, and was signed by the Governor on 5/31/07.

Arkansas – Senate Bill 592 (Whitaker), a positive bill that would have created a DTC shippers permit for wineries, died in House Rules Committee March 30.

Connecticut — Senate Bill 1204 was passed into law and changes the time period specified in the DTC shipping statute from 60 days to 2 months for the 5 gallon limit.

Florida – Shipping into FL is continues to be legal after competing bills—with and without discriminatory capacity caps—were considered but ultimately died in committees.

Georgia – House Bill 159 (Willard) and its companion Senate Bill 56 (Untermann) would have replaced the state’s convoluted shipping law with a DTC shipping license for all wineries (and retailers in SB56). The bills died in committee. Wholesaler-supported House Bill 393 (Stephens) sought to create new “domestic farm winery” and national “farm winery” categories with discriminatory capacity caps. The bill died in committee.

Hawaii – House Bill 1093 (Say) and Senate Bill 1019 (Taniguchi) sought to reduce consumer choice by limiting shipments under the existing DTC shipping permit from six cases per winery per consumer per year, to six cases per household per year. Both bills died in committee.

Idaho – House Bill 11 would have modified the permit legislation passed in 2006 to allow wholesalers and retailers in Idaho and other states to ship wine directly to consumers. Bill died in committee.

Maine – Senate Bill 54 (Bromley) would have created a DTC shippers permit for wine & beer. The bill passed the Senate on 6/12/07, but was killed in the house later that week.

Missouri — The Governor of Missouri signed SB 299 transitioning Missouri from a reciprocal state to a permit state effective August 28, 2007. The new permit law requires all wineries to obtain a direct shipping permit (no fee), limit shipments to two cases per consumer per month, submit an annual report by January 31, and pay excise taxes. The direct shipping permit application and instructions are available on the Wine Institute website at www.wineinstitute.org/programs/shipwine.

Nebraska – L441 (Mcdonald) will allocate funds raised by the existing $500 DTC shipper license fee paid by all wineries to be deposited to the NE Winery and Grape Producers Promotional Fund. The bill was signed by the Governor on May 30, 2007.

New Mexico – House Bill 1018 (Silva) passed the House, but was killed in the Senate after intense pressure from wholesalers and the beer lobby. It would have replaced reciprocity with a DTC shipping permit for wineries and retailers.

North Dakota – Senate Bill 2135 was signed into law and makes favorable changes to existing DTC shipping provisions, including: increased quantity limit from one to three cases per month, removed “reciprocal” provision passed in 2005 but never implemented, and removed vague language.

Ohio – During closing stages of budget process an amendment was adopted that will create a potentially unworkable permit system for DTC shipments into Ohio. The law has a capacity cap of 150,000 gallons, along with “per family household” aggregate limit that may prevent wineries from being able to ship even if they qualify for the permit. The bill was signed by the Governor on June 30 and becomes effective October 1, 2007.

Oklahoma – Several bills in the House and Senate were introduced, including a voter referendum to allow OK consumers to receive DTC shipments from out-of-state wineries, but a permit system has not been outlined. All bills died in committee.

Oregon – House Bill 2171 (Minnis) would transition state from a reciprocal DTC to a permit system for wineries and retailers. Status: The bill passed the House & Senate, and was sent to the Governor for signature in June.

Pennsylvania – House Bill 255 (Godshall) and Senate Bill 293 (Ferlo) are positive DTC shipping permit bills with a $100 registration fee, two cases per month to any individual. Taxes collected. Status: Both bills remain in Committee.

Tennessee – House Bill 1850 (Todd) creates a DTC shipping permit for 2 cases annually. Provisions: $100 fee, annual reports, annual excise and sales tax payments (companion bill was SB 1977, Stanley). Both bills died in Committee.

Texas – Senate Bill 1229 (Gallegos) was signed by the governor May 5, and limits the ability of TX retailers to use common carriers for DTC delivery outside their particular county. The bill was aimed at pending litigation spearheaded by the Specialty Wine Retailers Association seeking statewide sales via common carrier.

Virginia – House Bill 1784 (Cosgrove) and Senate Bill 1289 (Watkins) augmented current direct shipper permit to clarify that those shipments are by common carrier only, and created separate allowance for any legal shipper to make deliveries of up to 4 cases of wine to a consumer in their own vehicle. Additionally, Senate Bill 984 (Edwards) also became law, creating an “internet wine retailer license” to allow sales by a retailer having no physical premise.

West Virginia – Senate Bill 712 (Kessler) was signed by the governor and, among many other provisions, replaced reciprocity with a DTC permit bill for wineries, wholesalers and retailers.

LITIGATION UPDATE

Maine – As previously reported elsewhere, on March 5, U.S. District Court Judge Carter adopted the magistrate’s report and recommendation issued three months ago in the Cherry Hill (Tanford/Epstein) suit. This ruling supports an on-site sale requirement for any sales to consumers, contrary to an opinion rendered in December 2006 in KY ruling that on-site provisions were unconstitutional.

Tennessee – As previously reported elsewhere, the U.S. District Court in Tennessee ruled in favor of the state regarding what most thought was an ill-advised lawsuit (Jelovsek v. Bresden). The plaintiffs alleged that consumers faced a greater burden in traveling to another state to purchase wine in person at a winery than they faced in buying wine directly from a TN winery tasting room. The judge was not convinced, and the wholesalers have promoted their “victory” to bolster arguments for the preeminence of the 3-tier system in all matters.

Texas – All summary judgment motions have been filed. Oral arguments are scheduled for September 21 in Dallas. Wholesalers claim that passage of Senate Bill 1229 moots this lawsuit (see Texas paragraph under legislation, above).

Massachusetts — Motions for summary judgment are expected this winter in the case that seeks to overturn the 30,000 gallon production cap in the DTC law. Family Winemakers of California is the lead plaintiff.