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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.

    The First of May Brings the First of Direct Wine Shipping to the Garden State

    Spring brings more than flowers this year for supporters of direct shipping. After three and a half months of anticipation and preparation, the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control posted checklists, forms and applications on their site, making S 3172 a reality for the wine industry. Effective May 1, New Jersey is accepting applications for the Out-of-State Winery License from wineries producing less than 250,000 gallons (roughly 105,000 cases) annually. Annual production dictates the fee for the new license:

    • Less than 1,000 gallons – $63
    • Between 1,000 and 2,500 gallons – $125
    • Between 2,500 and 30,000 gallons – $250
    • Between 30,000 and 50,000 gallons – $375
    • Between 50,000 and 250,000 gallons – $938

    In addition to the listed winery license fees, New Jersey will make out-of-state wineries work hard for entry into the 40th U.S. state to allow direct shipping. The latest information indicates out-of-state wineries must: 1) register their business with the Secretary of State ($125); 2) register their business with the Division of Taxation for payment of state sales and excise taxes; 3) post a beverage tax bond (ranging from $1,000 to $1,000,000 depending on anticipated sales); and 4) submit the license application with the fee, outlined above, to the New Jersey Alcoholic Beverage Control (NJ ABC). New Jersey also requires all products shipped into the state to be brand-registered at a cost of $23 per label.

    In an unanticipated twist, corporate laws in New Jersey require any foreign (non-New Jersey) corporation that secures a license from a state agency (for example, a wine shipper’s license from the NJ ABC) to establish nexus with the state. With this nexus, out-of-state winery licensees must also annually file corporate income tax and pay a minimum of $500/year, depending on gross revenues. Partnerships are also subject to a tax of $150/partner/year and annual filing. All wineries applying for the license should be aware that they are subject to this requirement.

    On top of direct shipping capabilities for Out-of-State Wineries, with the payment of an additional fee (from $100 to $1000 depending on annual production), licensees may ship directly to New Jersey retailers. Common carriers are not allowed to ship these orders to retailers, and price posting is required on products for sale to retailers. Additionally, licensees have the option to open up to 16 tasting rooms within New Jersey for a fee of $250/site.

    Here are the forms referenced in New Jersey’s checklist and instructions, in order of appearance:

    We realize that the application process in New Jersey is a little daunting, so ShipCompliant has already geared up EasyWineLicensing.com to facilitate the licensing process. Visit www.easywinelicensing.com before May 15th with the coupon code “EWLNJ” and save 35% off ShipCompliant service fees to obtain a New Jersey direct shipping license.








    New Jersey Poised to Open Up For Direct Shipping

    Late Monday night, in the final action of a marathon legislative session that closed out the year, the New Jersey Assembly passed S3172, a bill that, among other things, opens up the state for direct-to-consumer shipments. If signed by Governor Chris Christie as expected, it will allow wineries producing up to 250,000 gallons of wine annually to apply for licenses to ship wine directly to New Jersey consumers.

    The bill also allows for both in- and out-of-state winery self-distribution and tasting rooms, two issues that New Jersey was compelled to address due to a 2010 lawsuit (Freeman v. Corzine) that ruled the state was acting unconstitutionally by allowing in-state wineries to sell wine through distribution methods unavailable to out-of-state wineries.

    Direct Shipping Details:
    Once S3172 is signed by the Governor, New Jersey, a state that has prohibited direct wine shipments, will join 38 other states in allowing limited amounts of wine to be shipped to its residents. The bill gives licensed Farm and Plenary wineries the ability to ship, and allows out-of-state wineries producing less than 250,000 gallons per year to apply for an “Out-of-State Winery License”. The fee for the Out-of-State Winery License is one of the most expensive direct shipping licenses in the country at $938 per year (the same annual fee paid by in-state wineries). All licensed wineries may ship up to twelve nine-liter cases to a New Jersey consumer per year. Sales and excise taxes must be paid.

    Self-Distribution Details:
    For an additional fee, New Jersey Farm, Plenary, and Out-of-State Winery licensees may self-distribute (sell wine directly to New Jersey retailers). After recent amendments to the bill, however, wineries are restricted from shipping to retailers via common carrier. It is yet unclear what this means for the self-distribution privilege, specifically for wineries that are not in close proximity to the state. The additional fee for self-distribution ranges from $100 to $1000 per year, depending on the production volume of the winery.

    Tasting Room Details:
    S3172 will allow out-of-state wineries to operate tasting rooms within New Jersey. Out-of-state wineries may operate up to 16 tasting rooms, while in-state wineries may operate up to 15 tasting rooms in addition to their licensed premise; Farm, Plenary, and Out-of-State Winery licensees must pay a $250 fee for each tasting room location. New Jersey wineries are currently able to operate tasting rooms and joint tasting rooms. The bill, however, removes the ability for wineries to operate joint tasting rooms, which is a disadvantage for out-of-state wineries.

    The opening of New Jersey to direct wine shipments is a major accomplishment and will open up one of the last significant marketplaces that prohibit direct shipment of wine. Both New Jersey and out-of-state wineries are expected to benefit from the change in the law, as well as New Jersey wine consumers. If signed by the Governor, the law would go into effect on the first day of the fourth month following enactment (May 1, if enacted in January). When specific regulations concerning license applications and reporting are issued, ShipCompliant will notify its clients and the industry.








    Direct Shipping Legislation Heats Up Across the Country

    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.

    Maryland

    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.

    New Jersey

    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

    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.

    Massachusetts

    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.

    Indiana

    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

    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.

    Tennessee

    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.

    Pennsylvania

    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.

    Glimmer of Hope in Challenging On-Site Requirements

    On December 17th, the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit (Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) rendered its decision in Freeman v. Corzine (formerly known as Freeman v. Fischer and Freeman v. Governor of New Jersey). The case applies Granholm to several aspects of New Jersey law, which banned direct shipment by all wineries, but allowed direct-to-consumer sales only by in-state wineries. To no surprise, it concluded that the facial discrimination created by giving only its own wineries a sales route around the three-tier system violated the dormant Commerce Clause, absent proof of a legitimate state objective it cannot achieve without discriminating against the interstate seller (the necessity test, which no state has passed so far in Granholm litigation).

    A less predictable part of the 3rd Circuit ruling involved personal importation, a subject courts have not heretofore directly examined under Granholm. The Freeman opinion takes a straightforward nondiscrimination approach: If a state allows its resident wineries to sell directly to consumers without volume limits, it cannot impose significant volume limits on wine a consumer purchases at an out-of-state winery and brings into the state, without meeting the necessity test. To comply with Freeman, it appears that states must either fashion demonstrable proofs of necessity that will withstand close judicial scrutiny (as New Jersey failed to do) or choose between (a) imposing on their wineries’ tasting room sales the same, usually extreme, limits that apply to personal importation and (b) allowing consumers personally to import out-of-state on-site purchases with no more limits than apply to local tasting rooms.

    Because the federal direct shipment law permits wineries to ship on-site purchases directly to consumers who could lawfully have carried it home as luggage under personal importation laws, independently of state direct shipment laws, invalidating state volume limits could in theory expand direct distribution geographically and make it available to wineries that do not hold shipping licenses. It seems highly unlikely, however, that states would by inaction permit creation of a significant market in untaxed personal importation of on-site sales.

    Plaintiffs in Freeman also challenged the ban on all direct shipment, on the grounds that on-site laws, though not facially discriminatory, discriminate in effect by prohibiting out-of-state wineries from using the only method at hand to compete with local wineries, a visit to which by the local consumer is not as burdensome as a trip outside the state. (Non-facial discrimination is usually examined under a less stringent standard, whether the purported benefit to the state outweighs the harm to commerce, known as the Pike test.) Like most courts that have encountered it, the 3rd Circuit rejected the differential burden argument in conclusory terms, finding that the law “even-handedly forces all wine sales out of one channel and into other available channels” –i.e., no proven discrimination in effect. However, unlike some other courts, it held out the possibility that in another case the pro-commerce litigants might successfully prove differential burden by demonstrating economic loss because of the disproportionate travel requirement inherent in on-site laws. It also implied that future plaintiffs who could prove even modest economic loss to out-of-state producers might profitably argue that benefits from the non-facial discrimination are too slight to pass the Pike balancing test.

    By R. Corbin Houchins, 12/23/2010, CorbinCounsel.com

    Notes on Wine Distribution v.32

    The latest version of “Notes on Wine Distribution”, by R. Corbin Houchins, is now available. Release 32 includes updates on legislation, litigation and general discussions on available distribution channels for wine. This release includes substantial changes, including new sections on age and identity, facial neutrality, and logistical support services, as well as updates to state summaries in Arizona, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. Read about these and other updates that affect the way wine is sold and shipped within the United States.

    If you are at all interested in the shipping and distribution of wine, this is an excellent resource that is well worth reading.  You can view the most recent version of the document anytime by visiting the ShipCompliant Blog and clicking the link located under “Compliance Resources”, or by visiting CorbinCounsel.com and clicking on the home page link, “Notes on Wine Distribution.”

    Click Here to View NWD Release 32