Taylor Eason

HR 5034: bill that will affect our wine choices heats up in Washington

Last March, beer wholesaler lobbyists presented a bill... er, I mean, legislators presented a bill in Congress entitled HR 5034 or the CARE Act. Some highlights:

It is the purpose of this Act to: (1) recognize that alcohol is different from other consumer products and that it should be regulated effectively by the States according to the laws thereof; and (2) reaffirm and protect the primary authority of States to regulate alcoholic beverages. (The full text is here)

EDITOR'S NOTE: A full House hearing on the bill is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 29. This would be an excellent time for wine consumers to let their representatives know what they think. But first, read on ...

Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, no, it's not. The 21st amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which abolished the destructive American fubar called Prohibition, gave every state the right to regulate alcoholic beverages. With this wall falling, the three-tier system of distribution and tax collection – from supplier to wholesaler to retailer/restaurant – became the norm in the majority of the states. But this amendment and the three-tier system didn't foresee the internet, the consolidation of wholesalers who now control the wine/beer choices of Americans, and the growing demand of consumers for smaller, boutique wines (and beers) not available on their local retail shelves. (More info about the three tier system and direct shipping.)

Working to provide alternative wine choices for the past ten years or so, California wine lobbyists have slowly been breaking through interstate commerce barriers and the three-tier system, claiming that limiting an American's choice is unconstitutional (it's way more complicated than this but read more about it on Free the Grapes.org). Lawsuits have ensued in many states and it looks like the case of National Wholesalers versus Consumers will soon make it to the Supreme Court. (Read about the original 2005 Supreme Court ruling that got wholesalers freaked out).

And that's where H.R. 5034 comes in.

Even with mounting evidence that the current state laws are unconstitutional to wineries outside the state, this bill, if passed, would make the Supreme Court's decision moot or not even allow it down that road by removing the federal government from the equation. The wholesalers could protect their monopolies over the alcohol in every state and, eventually, threaten your ability to buy wine or beer (or anything else, for that matter) directly from the supplier. It would make it illegal... believe it or not.

If this stokes some anger in you, read both sides of the debate and then, if riled up, take a stand by writing your Congressman.

For the opinion of someone who is intimate with this bill (and opposed to it), read an interview with Representative Mike Thompson, whose district includes Napa Valley, on The Daily Sip.com.

Find the other side's story on HR5034.org.

 

Sept. 22, 2010

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