ANNAPOLIS — Poised to allow Marylanders to receive wine shipments from winemakers, the General Assembly faces the prospect of grappling with the same issue next year as advocates seek an expanded shipping law.
Compromise legislation passed key Senate and House of Delegates committees on Tuesday and will be up for debate before both chambers on Thursday.
The bills, HB 1175 and SB 248, would give wine drinkers fewer options than they had hoped for at the beginning of the legislative session. Protests raised by the powerhouse liquor lobby led lawmakers to exclude retailers from the bill, meaning only in- and out-of-state wineries would be able to ship to consumers.
“I think it’s a good compromise. We wanted to move things forward for wine connoisseurs,” said Del. Dereck E. Davis, chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, which approved the bill 20-0. “By the same token, we wanted to balance things for people who do this for a living.”
The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee passed the bill 11-0.
Strong support in both committees indicates the bill will likely have an easy ride to passage. But, Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, the Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said he will press for an amendment to the Senate bill on Thursday that would require the state to study the economic impact of allowing in-state retailers to ship to Maryland customers.
Retailers, worried by the threat of competition from their counterparts in other states, argued against their inclusion in the bill while shipping advocates argued for that provision to allow access to a greater variety of wines and participation in wine of the month clubs.
“At the very least we have to put on the agenda allowing our retailers the right to ship,” Raskin said. “I want to lay the groundwork for next session, just like we laid the groundwork for this year with the comptroller’s report.”
In the 2010 session, an attempt to pass a direct shipping bill failed to pass the Economic Matters Committee, and was watered down in the Senate to require the comptroller to study the issue. That report set the stage for the legislation this year.
Raskin, a constitutional law professor, said a federal district court decision in Texas in Wine Country Gift Baskets v. Steen — later upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — opens the door for an in-state retailer shipping provision.
Davis and Sen. Joan Carter Conway, the Baltimore Democrat who heads the education committee, both said they are not opposed to the additional study, but said they were still worried by the potential legal challenges to a law that would limit shipping in Maryland to the state’s retailers.
“This is not Texas,” Conway said. “It’s Maryland. I think the out-of-state retailers will sue. And if you let them come in, they’ll wipe the Maryland retailers out.”