Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma Lawmakers May Have Found Middle Ground in Winery Dispute

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma Lawmakers May Have Found Middle Ground in Winery Dispute

Article excerpt

After two years of working on a compromise bill that would both help the state's wineries and would not violate interstate commerce laws, state Rep. Danny Morgan thinks this is the year the problem will be resolved.

The state House of Representatives on Monday approved Senate Bill 995 and Senate Joint Resolution 29, which together would once again ask the people of Oklahoma to decide if wineries should be allowed to sell their products directly to retailers and restaurants in Oklahoma. But this time, the proposal would extend the privilege to out-of-state wineries as well.

Oklahoma's wine industry is still young, and almost all wineries in the state produce very small amounts. Oklahoma law does not require wholesalers to work with Oklahoma wineries, and some winemakers in Oklahoma said they had trouble finding a wholesaler willing to take on such small accounts. Freedom to sell directly to restaurants and retailers can help a small winery grow, said state winemakers.

Oklahoma voters had approved a law in 2000 allowing Oklahoma wineries to sell their products directly to retailers and restaurants without using a wholesaler. But in late 2006, federal Judge Stephen Friot struck down the law, finding it violated interstate commerce laws because in-state wineries were given an opportunity not extended to out-of-state wineries.

Liquor wholesalers had challenged the law in federal court, asserting the measure threatened Oklahoma's three-tiered system for liquor distribution, which requires all manufacturers of alcohol to distribute their products through a wholesaler.

Friot delayed the effectiveness of his ruling until after the 2007 legislative session to give lawmakers the opportunity to address the situation, but the Legislature failed to do so. SB 995 languished in the House Judiciary and Public Safety from March of 2007 until February 2008, when the measure was reassigned to House Rules. …

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