Leelanau County Retailers Could Lose Right to Ship Wine – They Need Your Help – Contact Your Senator and Say NO Before House Bill 6644 Gets Passed

From a recent email from Lois Bahle of The Suttons Bay Area Chamber of Commerce concerning how House Bill 6644 could affect two Chamber members:

As we all know, doing business in today's economic climate is difficult at best. That's why I'm asking you to support two of our retail members by contacting your state representative, state senator and future state representative on behalf of two of our retail members.

As you may have read in Thursday's Leelanau Enterprise, House Bill No. 6644, which is supported by the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers, would effectively eliminate the ability of retailers like the Silvertree Deli and Hansen Foods from shipping wine directly to the customer. According to Bruce Vaughn at The Silvertree Deli, the bill is so restrictive that he wouldn't even be able to deliver a case of local wine to a wedding, much less ship it anywhere else in the state.

While this bill focuses on retailers, it could also have a negative effect on new wineries who are struggling to find an audience for their wines. While direct sales at the winery are still possible and wineries will still be able to ship directly, local wine shops such as The Silvertree Deli and Hansen Foods have done a superior job of presenting local wines. Their support of the Michigan wine industry through their knowledge and personal promotion of local wines can be a big boost for a start up.

Unfortunately, if the ability to distribute is limited to wholesale distributors, small start up wineries would find their products lost in the long list of wines marketed through the distributor. Since distributors look for a certain volume of sales before they will pick up a winery's line, many small wineries may never be able to build the volume they need to get a distributor to represent them.

The wine industry in Michigan is one of a few bright spots our business economy. This bill could have a chilling effect on that business – and that's something Michigan doesn't need right now. In fact, the Michigan House Fiscal Agency analysis of the bill pointed out that the bill could "seriously affect a business' ability to stay afloat in a troubled economy." Despite that, the House moved to push this legislation through before an economic analysis was completed.

A main argument made in promoting this legislation was a fear the state would not collect taxes it's due on retailer and caterer delivered sales. We could debate the merits of that argument for days, but the reality is that this bill will reduce tax revenues in the immediate future. That's not something Michigan needs right now

You should also know that the state is appealing the federal judge's ruling that struck down Michigan's law permitting in-state retailers to ship wine directly to private residences. Supporters of this bill are claiming its passage buys time for the litigation to progress, but in reality this preempts the court appeal.

The Senate plans to try to move this bill before recessing for the holiday. I'm concerned that while we are all busy with the Christmas season, this bill will be pushed through the senate and across the Governor's desk – effectively getting through the end-of-the-year session while no one is watching.

Action is urgent. The House of Representatives passed this bill 97-9. We need you to act now. I urge you to contact Senator Michelle McManus and the other members of the Michigan Senate and encourage a no vote on this bill. One simple way to do this is to go to www.winecam.org. There you can automatically send a fax or get email or surface mail addresses to send your message to the State Senators. The last scheduled session of the Senate is December 18 – just 10 days away. Your voice in support of small business in Michigan needs to be heard. Please fax, call, email or write your senator today!

Lois Bahle