Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma Wine Shipment Bill Brings Up Distribution Questions

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma Wine Shipment Bill Brings Up Distribution Questions

Article excerpt

Oklahoma's alcohol distribution system appears ripe for change this year. The district court has ruled that the state law regarding wine shipments needs fixing. But legislative attempts to improve the wine law are spilling over into other areas of law affecting alcohol distribution.

In 2000, the people of Oklahoma passed State Question 688, amending the state constitution to allow Oklahoma winemakers to sell their product directly to restaurants and package stores, bypassing the wholesaler. The measure was intended to provide a boost to Oklahoma's fledgling wine industry, by making it easier for local wineries to get their product to market.

In November, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Friot struck down the law as unconstitutional because it treats in-state winemakers differently than out-of-state wineries, in violation of federal interstate commerce law. Friot delayed further action on the matter until June to give the Oklahoma Legislature time to fix the problem.

State Rep. Jeffrey Hickman, R-Dacoma, has introduced a bill he thinks will do the job. House Bill 1603 would allow both in-state and out-of-state wineries to sell their wine directly to Oklahoma customers. If all winemakers must be treated the same under state law, Oklahoma winemakers far preferred allowing out-of-state wineries to ship their products to Oklahoma customers instead of the alternative, which is to prohibit all winemakers, in and out of Oklahoma, from shipping wine directly to customers, said Hickman.

"They said, 'bring on the competition,'" he said. "If the industry has changed, why wouldn't we want to change the way we do things?"

A group of alcohol wholesalers had filed the lawsuit which Friot ruled on in November. Lobbyist James Milner, whose clients include alcohol wholesalers, said the group sought legal guidance on a broader issue than the immediate question of whether wine can be shipped in Oklahoma. …

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