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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

Wine Distribution Notes – Release 28

The latest version of Notes on Wine Distribution by R. Corbin Houchins is now available for viewing or downloading. Release 28 highlights changes in the following categories: Age & Identity Verification, Rethinking Reciprocity and State Notes, specifically Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania. Headings of sections with substantial changes since the preceding release (published in early April, 2008) are highlighted, so that you can easily find the updated sections.

You can always view the most current version of Houchins’s Notes on Wine Distribution by visiting ShipCompliantBlog.com and clicking on the “Wine Distribution Notes” link under “Compliance Resources” on the right-hand side of the page.

A call to action in Maryland

Maryland consumers want you!Maryland is currently one of six states, including Utah, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Pennsylvania, where all direct shipping is prohibited for both offsite and onsite sales. In fact, shipping wine into Maryland today can result in a felony.

But, that could all change soon. House Bill 1260 and its companion, Senate Bill 616, would establish a system where permitted wineries and wine retailers could ship directly to Maryland residents.

The bills are endorsed by Maryland consumers, Maryland wineries, out-of-state wineries, and out-of-state retailers. But, these groups need help and are calling for action because the wholesaler lobby will fight the bills fiercely. If you are interesting in supporting consumer choice in Maryland, you can get involved by following one or more of the steps below:

1) Visit Free the Grapes!, click on the link for Maryland consumers, and follow the instructions in the Action Alert

2) Share this post with all of the consumers that you know in Maryland

3) A hearing has been scheduled for HB 1260. The House Economic Matters Committee (House Office Building, Room 231) will begin the hearing on Monday, February 18, 2008 at 1pm. If you are able, or know anyone that is able, attend the hearing on Monday and voice your support.

Maryland Comptroller

A DIRECT WINE SHIPPER SHALL:

(1) ENSURE THAT ALL CONTAINERS OF WINE SHIPPED DIRECTLY TO A RESIDENT IN THE STATE ARE CONSPICUOUSLY LABELED WITH THE WORDS “CONTAINS ALCOHOL; SIGNATURE OF PERSON AT LEAST AGE 21 YEARS OLD REQUIRED FOR DELIVERY”;

(2) REPORT TO THE OFFICE OF THE COMPTROLLER ANNUALLY THE TOTAL OF WINE, BY TYPE, SHIPPED IN THE STATE THE PRECEDING CALENDAR YEAR;

(3) PAY ANNUALLY TO THE OFFICE OF THE COMPTROLLER ALL SALES TAXES AND EXCISE TAXES DUE ON SALES TO RESIDENTS OF THE STATE IN THE PRECEDING CALENDAR YEAR, THE AMOUNT OF THE TAXES TO BE CALCULATED AS IF THE SALE WERE MADE AT THE DELIVERY LOCATION;

(4) ALLOW THE OFFICE OF THE COMPTROLLER TO PERFORM AN AUDIT OF THE DIRECT WINE SHIPPER’S RECORDS ON REQUEST; AND

(5) CONSENT TO THE JURISDICTION OF THE OFFICE OF THE COMPTROLLER OR OTHER STATE UNIT AND THE STATE COURTS CONCERNING ENFORCEMENT OF THIS SECTION AND ANY RELATED LAW.

(B) A DIRECT WINE SHIPPER MAY NOT:

(1) SHIP MORE THAN 24 9–LITER CASES OF WINE ANNUALLY TO ANY ONE INDIVIDUAL; OR

(2) SHIP WINE TO AN ADDRESS IN AN AREA IN WHICH THE BOARD OF LICENSE COMMISSIONERS FOR THAT AREA MAY NOT ISSUE A LICENSE AUTHORIZING THE SALE OF WINE.

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.