HARTFORD, CT — Without a governor that’s taking on the issue, Rep. Michael D’Agostino, who co-chairs the General Law Committee, said there will be no discussion about minimum bottle pricing this year.
Connecticut liquor laws establish a floor for liquor prices that, for the most part, retailers cannot go below.
Former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said it amounted to a price fixing scheme. He tried for years to get lawmakers to repeal Connecticut’s minimum pricing laws, but ran into opposition from package store owners who are afraid they wouldn’t be able to compete with large retailers that would undercut them. Malloy argued Connecticut’s laws were unfair to consumers who could drive to a neighboring state and buy their alcohol for much cheaper prices.
There’s also a federal appeal pending that could decide the future of Connecticut’s minimum pricing laws.
Total Wine & More, a national chain with four stores in Connecticut, challenged the states minimum pricing laws back in 2016.
In 2017, U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall found that the laws and regulations establishing the complex pricing system could not be pre-empted by federal antitrust law. She said it also wasn’t a question for the federal judiciary to decide.
“The court notes that Total Wine’s Complaint includes several allegations that suggest the Connecticut liquor regime is unfair to consumers,” Hall wrote in a footnote. “Whether or not the statutory and regulatory scheme implemented by the State of Connecticut is wise is not a question for this court.”
Total Wine & More has appealed the decision and the briefing has been done, but the Second Circuit has yet to issue a ruling.
“We’ve been waiting for a decision on that for almost a year now,” D’Agostino said. “The court may tell us there’s no min-bottle or parts of it have been ruled unconstitutional or an anti-trust violation.”
D’Agostino said they’re going to wait to see what happens with that decision.
In the meantime, there are plenty of alcohol laws to debate.
He said they want to find a good balance to “support our craft beer industry and the craft distillery industry and cider industry to make sure they remain competitive.”
D’Agostino said he thinks there’s a desire among the committee members to increase the amount of product breweries, wineries, and distilleries can sell to consumers.
He said the breweries can only sell nine liters right now “and a lot of us like myself would like to see that expanded.”
He said they are expecting a long public hearing on all those issues.
D’Agostino said the two bills that would require craft breweries to decide between operating a tap room and distributing their product won’t be raised for a public hearing and debate. He said the legislation would effectively end the craft beer industry in the state.
“Nobody has the thirst for doing anything like that,” D’Agostino said.
Carroll Hughes, chief lobbyist for the Connecticut Package Store Association, said they may not be talking about minimum pricing this year, but there’s still plenty for package store owners to worry about.
He pointed to a bill that would allow places like Target and Walmart to sell beer.
The bill raised for a public hearing would “allow the sale of beer in a store with over six thousand square feet of floor space, at least twenty percent of which is dedicated primarily to the sale of groceries.”
He said legislation like that is worrisome to small package stores who are struggling to compete.
The bill was raised by Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, who is the ranking Republican on the General Law Committee.
The legislation would also increase the limit on the sale of beer for off-premises consumption from nine liters per day to 23 liters per day, and increase the limit on the sale of liquor for off-premises consumption for distilleries from one and one-half liters to three liters.
The bill would also allow craft breweries to self-distribute their products to package stories without going through a distributor.