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.
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
As legislative sessions continue to progress across the country, more and more legislative bills concerning direct shipments of wine are being considered. If the bills mentioned in this post pass, two states will change from being prohibited states to permit states. The last state to change from a prohibited state to a permit state was Indiana, and that turned out to be a little messy. The bills for Rhode Island and Alabama are straight forward and fair – let’s hope they make it through the process.
If HB 520 or its companion SB 412 in Alabama, and S 2125 in Rhode Island pass, they would allow for any licensed wine producer, supplier, importer, wholesaler, distributor or retailer to apply for a direct shipper license ($100 initial fee; $50 per year thereafter) that would allow them to ship up to 24 cases of wine per year to an of-age resident of the state, as long as the resident is not located in a dry area. Sales and excise taxes must be paid annually.