A Nebraska state senator is sponsoring two bills that would regulate the personal importation of alcohol. One bill, which has already been made public, would completely prohibit direct shipping to consumers. The second bill, to be introduced in the legislature today, would allow direct shipping, but regulate the practice more closely.
Currently, Nebraska is relatively lenient and straightforward compared to many other states, even those that do allow consumers to bring in alcoholic beverages from out-of-state. As it stands now, Nebraska law allows individuals to import up to 9 liters (one standard case) of alcoholic beverages each month for personal consumption. No other restrictions are stated.
State senator Stan Schellpeper, chairman of the General Affairs Committee, which oversees state liquor laws, hopes to change that. He introduced the two bills in an effort to spark discussion on the subject of direct shipping and Internet sales of alcoholic beverages.
"There are serious issues regarding how people are obtaining alcohol," said Ken Winston, legal counsel for the General Affairs Committee. "Is the state losing revenue? Are underage people making use of interstate shipping provisions to obtain alcohol? We think it needs to be looked at."
Bill 281 would prohibit any consumer from bringing in any amount of alcohol from out of state. The wording not only effectively bans mail-orders and wine-of-the-month clubs, it also prevents a consumer from purchasing a bottle of wine during a trip and carrying it back in a suitcase. Shipping or transporting alcohol across the state line would be a misdemeanor, not a felony as it is in seven other states.
Even Schellpeper has acknowledged that this bill may be too severe. "We're not that serious about that approach," commented Winston.
The bill being introduced today would continue to allow consumers to bring in up to 9 liters of alcohol each month for personal use. But it would require the shippers to obtain a permit from the state, ensure that shipments are only delivered to people over the age of 21, and submit to shipping audits if requested by the state. In addition, all purchases would be subject to Nebraska sales and excise taxes. Violations would also be misdemeanors, and shippers would be subjected to more severe penalties than consumers.
Though the bills are supported by the state wholesalers, whose business may be threatened by direct shipments of alcohol, Winston said wine lovers have weighed in on the issue as well. He said it is too soon to tell how much support the bills will have in the legislature, but did not expect either of them to be a priority. The current Nebraska legislative session is set to end by early June.
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