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.
As the snow melts here in Boulder, it’s time for a status update on the direct shipping bills we expected to see in 2013, as well as other notable legislation.
1. How are Direct Shipping Bills Stacking Up?
Massachusetts has seen six direct shipping bills introduced this session, and though there hasn’t been much movement yet, HB 294 has the most promise – especially since former New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe has recently announced his support for this direct shipping bill.
Pennsylvania currently has three direct shipping bills under consideration: HB 121, SB 36, and SB 101. Only HB 121 has moved out of committee, but all three bills are being considered as part of the privatization push in the state. These bills will move forward if and when an agreement is reached on which portions of the modernization efforts are going to be moved independently from one another. Currently, all three of these bills include the very high “Johnstown Flood Tax” rates – 18% to 24%. The Wine Institute is working to negotiate a lower tax rate before passage of any of these three bills occurs.
Montana, which is effectively closed to direct shipping because of the problematic “connoisseur’s license” system, should see a change when HB 402 is made law. The legislation would replace the wine connoisseur’s license with a direct shipping “supplement”, available to Montana wineries and to out-of-state wineries holding an Importer License. Breweries, however, would still be subject to connoisseur license regulations. HB 402 has passed both the House and Senate, and is on its way to the governor’s desk for his expected signature.
Arkansas’ House and Senate passed HB 1749, a very restrictive direct shipping bill sponsored by the Speaker of the House. The bill was signed by Governor Mike Beebe on March 21, 2013, turning it into law. Act 483 will open up “direct shipping” to Arkansas consumers by wineries that obtain a $25 annual permit. All orders must be placed in person, at the winery; internet orders will not be allowed. Additionally, permit holders may only ship one case per calendar quarter to an individual’s residence only, state sales taxes and excise taxes must be paid, and a special label provided by the ABC at the cost of no more than $10 per label must be on all shipments.
In Delaware, HB 60 was introduced on March 21, 2013; this bill would allow wineries to ship 12 cases annually under a new $100 permit program. Excise taxes would be paid quarterly, and carriers would be required to obtain a permit as well.
A direct shipping bill was introduced in South Dakota earlier this legislative session, but SB 100 has been tabled for the year.
2. COLA Processing at TTB Shifts to Electronic
In keeping with their word to streamline the label submission and approval process, the TTB has revamped their website and included several helpful resources on their labeling page, including a table with up-to-date information on label processing times. Additionally, on February 1, 2013, the TTB began processing paper COLA submissions in the same way they process electronic submissions; paper submissions are scanned into the system and the TTB will notify applicants of approval or rejection via email, if an email address is listed on the application. Industry Circular Number 2012-03 contains more detailed information on this change. We expect more changes to the COLA process as the year progresses. Jeff Carroll of ShipCompliant will be moderating a panel called “COLA Changes on the Horizon” at the NCSLA annual conference in June.
3. Pennsylvania’s Privatization and Modernization
The latest news on modernization centers on HB 790 – a bill that calls for and addresses privatization of the sale of alcohol in the state of Pennsylvania. Though there are several accompanying bills that supplement Pennsylvania’s privatization plan, this bill is leading the charge for ending Pennsylvania’s status as a control state. HB 790 addresses how the state should make the changeover to private distribution & retail sale of alcohol, what should occur in the interim, and what should be the end result of a privatized system. Currently, this bill has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate.
4. Third Party Marketing
Two bills were introduced to limit third party marketing in Maryland: HB 1420 and SB 990. These bills contained the following language: “An order may not be transmitted to the holder of the direct wine shipper’s permit by a retailer, a wholesaler, or any other third party, including a marketplace site on the internet in which sellers offer products to customers.” Following a hearing on SB 990, the author has withdrawn the bill, and the author of the House bill no longer intends to move HB 1420 forward either. Defeating both of these bills took a great deal of work by lobbyists working in Maryland on behalf of the wineries and the third party companies.
5. Existing Direct Shipping Laws, Reworked
Nebraska currently allows wineries and retailers to apply for a direct shipping license. LB 230, a bill that would add restrictions to the current process, originally contained language to eliminate access of direct shipments from retailers including online retailers. However, after two amendments, the bill creates a direct shipping license for both wineries and retailers. If passed, wineries (but not retailers) would be required to “identify” the brands they will ship to Nebraska consumers, and submit “notification to wholesalers of intent to direct ship” any brands that are also sold to Nebraska wholesalers. Both wineries and retailers would be subject to a status of nexus (likely requiring payment of corporate income taxes) and monthly excise tax reports (currently an annual filing). As of March 15, this bill is in Committee. Wine Institute is opposing LB 230.
SB 15 in Indiana was intended to help wineries that direct ship into the state, but fails to address all of the existing direct to consumer limitations. The bill would remove the “previous visit” requirement by consumers before direct shippers can send wine shipments. However, a new requirement to obtain a faxed or scanned copy of the consumers identification would be required. Also, wineries with a wholesale relationship are still not eligible for the direct shipping license in this bill. For these reasons, Wine Institute is opposing the bill at this time. Currently in Senate Committee.
6. Product Registration Updates
In Arkansas, HB 1480 would become active on July 1, 2013 if implemented, and would require all wineries to register their brand labels and label extensions at a fee of $15 per label per container size. Additionally, wineries producing over 250,000 gallons annually would have to register as a supplier and submit an annual permit fee of $50. This bill is currently out of committee and in the House with a recommendation of “do pass”.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last August, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Baude v. Heath invalidated an Indiana statute that made most out-of-state wineries ineligible for the “direct wine seller’s permit,” which the law would have limited to in-state wineries and to wineries in the few states that do not grant them local wholesaling privileges. However, the opinion upheld the requirement that a consumer’s first purchase from each winery occur on the winery premises, a ruling that led the plaintiffs to seek review in the Supreme Court by petitioning for a writ of certiorari, based on de facto discrimination against distant wineries.
On May 18, 2009, the Supreme Court denied the plaintiffs’ petition without opinion. The consequence is that the Circuit Court opinion remains the last word on the subject, at least among the federal courts of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. (The case does not address a subsequent statutory change disqualifying wineries with Indiana wholesaler relationships from direct shipment, but a similar Massachusetts provision that fell disproportionately on out-of-state wineries was invalidated in Family Winemakers of California v. Jenkins.)
Denials of certiorari carry no legal weight as to the merits of the issues, but the ruling illustrates the propositions that Granholm does not “open the states” to direct shipment (in case there is anyone who hasn’t yet gotten that message) and that clarification of Granholm is probably not a high priority for the Court. For the near term, Granholm’s many unanswered questions will continue to leave lower courts considerable freedom in deciding how much a state may burden cross-border wine commerce. If conflicts among the circuits develop over time, chances of Supreme Court review will improve.
The Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission is now enforcing the statutory citation concerning the initial face-to-face transaction requirement in Section 7.1-3-26-6. The face-to-face requirement originally became effective on July 1, 2006, but was later stayed by the Court on August 24, 2007. However, the stay has expired and it is recommended that direct shippers comply with face-to-face requirement. Indiana consumers may only receive off-site shipments if they have visited the winery and completed an on-site transaction. Indiana consumers who have not completed a face-to-face transaction with the direct shipper are no longer eligible to receive wine shipments. Additional information about direct-to-consumer shipping regulations can be found by visiting http://www.wineinstitute.org/initiatives/stateshippinglaws and clicking on the state of Indiana.
Annie Bones, State Relations – Wine Institute