By Sean Hughes, Connecticut Package Stores Association
The end of March will mark a full year of the global pandemic, and the beginning of the last three months of the legislative session, which adjourns on June 9, 2021.
As I write this article in early March, we have still not seen revisions to House Bill 6101, which contains many proposed changes to Connecticut liquor laws, such as allowing the sale of beer in large box stores and the sale of wine in food stores.
The General Law Committee is required to take action on all bills in the committee by March 30 at 5 p.m. Any bills that are not voted out of the committee with a majority vote by March 30 are “dead.” The hope is that this will occur with the original language of H.B. 6101, and that the two dangerous proposals will not go to a vote.
The Connecticut Package Stores Association (CPSA) has learned that General Law Committee leadership has offered “compromises” on the bill to make it seem as though it will have less of a detrimental impact to small businesses to members of the committee.
One of the purported compromises is that 10% of a grocery store’s shelf space for wine must be dedicated to wineries that produce less than 250,000 gallons of wine per year. Since it would be in violation of the U.S. Constitution Dormant Commerce Clause to force a grocery store to carry Connecticut-made wines, this provision would favor thousands of other wine brands, many of which are more popular to consumers than Connecticut wines. Additionally, most Connecticut wines produce less than a third of this proposed volume cap for 10% of shelf space. It will be difficult for them to compete with those wineries with more consistent availability of product.
The CPSA opposes the sale of wine in food stores, the sale of beer in box stores and any bill that seeks to make these changes to liquor statutes in Connecticut. It is also the opinion of the CPSA and its members that large chain food stores would not allocate the 10% of shelf space exclusively or even predominantly to Connecticut wines, and would instead fill the space with some of the thousands of other wineries from across the nation and the world that produce under 250,000 gallons per year.
Connecticut package stores have always been a platform for all beer, wine and liquor manufacturers in Connecticut. Many stores have allocated premium shelf space to showcasing Connecticut-made products and encourage their customers to buy local.
There is currently a large-scale public relations campaign being financed by big-box stores and food stores to increase support for wine in food stores and beer in box stores. These interest groups would gain huge financial benefits by taking away a significant portion of wine sales from package stores. The groups have been sending emails to their customers and purchasing advertisements on many websites and on several different social media platforms.
A concern that the CPSA has heard from legislators in the General Assembly this year is that there are some technical issues with emails and communications coming from members of the public. There have been instances where emails have not been received because they were either blocked by the system or they have been filtered into the “junk” folder of the legislator’s email account.
In this virtual legislative session, emails and phone calls are really the only feasible ways to communicate with legislators. Some legislators receive up to 4,000 emails per day on hundreds of issues before the General Assembly. If you are not getting a response to your email, we encourage our members to please try to make a phone call or mail a letter to your representatives.
The CPSA is grateful to the hundreds of members that submitted testimony or spoke at the public hearing against H.B. 6101 regarding Sections 55 (beer in box stores) and 56 (wine in grocery stores). Please look for further updates from the CPSA as to the status of beer in box stores and wine in food stores and reach out to the association with any questions.