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Oklahoma: Proposed Senate bill would allow wine sales at grocery, convenience stores

Oklahoma: Proposed Senate bill would allow wine sales at grocery, convenience stores

Source: Red Dirt Report

Tim Farley

January 6, 2016

More than a few state lawmakers might need a stiff drink after what’s bound to be a contentious debate on modernizing Oklahoma’s liquor laws.

State Sen. Stephanie Bice (R-Yukon) introduced legislation last year that would have allowed liquor stores to sell refrigerated beer. That measure was passed to a conference committee as the legislature adjourned in May.

Since then, Bice has called several interested parties to the table to discuss more than cold beer. Her latest proposal, which will be considered when the legislature convenes in February, would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell wine just as Texas permits. It also will allow liquor store owners to sell refrigerated beer of all types as well as mixers and accessories such as corkscrews and glassware.

“We feel pretty good about it (Senate Bill 383),” Bice said. “We talked to a lot of people including district attorneys and the people at ABLE (Alcoholic Beverages Law Enforcement commission), which I’m not sure that’s ever been done. We also brought in people from the liquor stores and the grocery and convenience stores. We can’t meet everyone’s needs but we tried to give everyone a win.”

However, Bryan Kerr, president of the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma, wasn’t happy when he heard news that wine would be sold in convenience stores.

“We would be opposed to anything that would be in excess of 6 percent alcohol by volume regardless of what it is,” he said. “We’re not against wine in grocery stores because that seems to be something the public supports.”

Kerr said Oklahoma has one liquor store for every 5,500 residents in Oklahoma, which he contends, is more than enough to serve consumers.

If the state’s liquor laws are changed, it could force some retail package stores to close. However, Kerr said those licenses could be converted to grocery stores that choose to sell wine.

“We could have up to 700 wine outlets and still be fine from our perspective,” Kerr said.

Bice acknowledged it’s unlikely the proposal will limit the number of grocery and convenience stores allowed to sell wine.

The new language in SB 383 hasn’t been made public yet, but Bice acknowledged liquor store owners probably would not endorse her entire proposal.

“They would not want wine sold at convenience stores, but they are getting the cold beer, which has never been done before,” she said.

John Cox, spokesman for the Beer Distributors of Oklahoma, took a more measured approach by not endorsing or criticizing the proposal.

“We’re in the discussion to make sure the interests of the independent beer distributors are protected.

We’re open to everything that is being discussed and we are aware of Senator Bice’s thoughts on the bill,” he said.

Cox opted not to discuss specifics of the measure, claiming the bill’s language will change “many times over.”

“There are so many things still to be worked out,” he said.

Bice’s measure also would change penalties for selling alcohol and beer to minors, but she did not provide details. In fact, Bice said the bill’s language will change substantially from the initial version drafted last year.

“We’re talking about a 200-page bill that has significant changes,” she said.

Although the support to expand the sale of wine and strong beer into grocery stores has been growing, many Oklahomans still see problems with the actual costs of such convenience, according to the findings of a June 2015 poll conducted by SoonerPoll.com

The greatest concern among likely Oklahoma voters is the access teens or underage employees of grocery stores have in handling and selling wine or strong beer, with 42 percent very concerned and 58 percent both very and somewhat concerned.

As the bill is rewritten and debated, Kerr said he anticipates spending more time at the state Capitol.

“We’ve been part of the process all along and kept an open mind and had an open dialogue with the senators,” he said. “I guess I’ll spend more time and energy educating the senators, representatives and the public.”

The retail liquor association also is an advocate for allowing customers to attend on-site wine tastings at retail package stores. The association also believes customers should be allowed to buy liquor, wine and beer from liquor stores on Independence Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Liquor store owners have proposed that customers be allowed to order products and have them delivered by a licensed employee of the liquor store.