Earlier this month, Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, unveiled legislation that would give states access to federal courts to help deal with illegal shipments of alcohol. Now, Congressman Robert Ehrlich, R-Md., plans to introduce a parallel bill in the House, claiming that it will help states enforce their existing regulations and make it easier to prosecute out-of-state violators. "This is a states' rights bill," said Ehrlich's press aide, Jill Homan.
Hatch's bill is actually modeled after earlier bills crafted by Ehrlich in 1997 and 1998; the House never acted on them, preferring to let the various segments of the wine and spirits industry sort the issues out among themselves. The language of Ehrlich's new bill is not yet finalized, and his office indicated it would be released in the next few weeks.
Next week, Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-Calif., is introducing legislation targeting Internet, mail and phone orders of alcohol. Her bill would require shippers and package carriers to verify that the recipient of any alcohol is of legal drinking age. If they fail to do so and sell to minors, they are charged with a felony and face a one- to two-year jail term; wineries would also lose their federal permit to make wines. The wording is not finalized, but it is expected to differ from her similar 1998 bill in placing responsibility on those who sell the alcohol (such as wineries and Web site and catalog owners) in addition to those who deliver it.
"This legislation is for all intents and purposes not targeting the boutique wineries," said Millender-McDonald's press secretary, Heather Brewer. She added that the California congresswoman wants to find a balance between supporting small business (including her home state's many wineries) and preventing children from ordering alcohol online. "There are sites that will ship a six-pack of beer. The prices are higher online, plus there are shipping costs and delays. Who is going to order that this way other than someone who has trouble getting it through conventional means?"
Last year, Millender-McDonald's "Prohibition Against Alcohol to Minors Act" had the support of Americans for Responsible Alcohol Access, which is backed by wine and spirits wholesalers organizations.
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