The Department of Revenue has updated multiple regulations to make it easier for consumers to purchase alcohol as residents deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the related self-quarantine.
Earlier in the week, DOR began allowing liquor stores to take orders online or over the phone, while providing curbside delivery rather than having to enter the retail establishment. This was previously illegal.
Now, as many restaurants are shutting down dining halls either voluntarily or via local ordinance or order, DOR will allow customers to purchase a sealed bottle of wine with their to-go order. To-go sales of mixed drinks remain prohibited. As does the delivery of alcoholic beverages.
Many states have begun to ease off similar alcohol prohibitions, but some have moved further. In Texas, an order from Gov. Greg Abbot allows restaurants to deliver alcoholic beverages with your meal delivery.
For years, supporters have pushed for direct shipment of wine to their house. The proposal was loudly defeated in the Senate last week, killing its chances for another year.
Senate Bill 2534, authored by Sen. Walter Michel (R-Ridgeland) and carried by Sen. Josh Harkins (R-Flowood) on the floor, would have made Mississippi the 44th state in the country to allow consumers to purchase wine and have it shipped directly to their house. Currently in Mississippi, a control state, you are limited to what the state has in stock, limiting your freedom to choose the wine you prefer. If ABC doesn’t have it available, you don’t have the option.
On deadline day, the bill came to the floor and was defeated 32-13. Thirteen Republicans voted for the bill, and two others that would have supported the bill paired their votes with opponents. Every other Republican voted no, as did the entire Democratic caucus.
This is the latest defeat this session, though we don’t usually see floor votes showcasing the opposition from legislators. Earlier this session, bills to allow wine in grocery stores died in committee without a vote considered in either chamber.
House Bill 981, sponsored by Rep. Brent Powell (R-Flowood), and Senate Bill 2531, sponsored by Michel, would have allowed wine to be sold in grocery stores, while providing up to six permits. You are currently limited to one permit. Wine sales in grocery stores are legal in 39 states, including Alabama, Louisiana, and Tennessee. But it will remain illegal in Mississippi, at least in 2020.
Some new establishments, including Costco in Ridgeland, Whole Foods in Jackson, and Sam’s Club in Madison, have separate establishments that sell alcohol – essentially their own liquor store attached to their main store, but not a place you can access without leaving the main grocery store. Most grocery stores can’t or won’t take on what is an unnecessary burden.
The opposition to alcohol freedom is very loud, and obviously influential with legislators.
And they don’t even hide what they are trying to do. It is liquor stores who don’t want competition, and everyone in Jackson knows that. But it shouldn’t be the job of the legislature to pick winners and losers. Coupled with the Department of Revenue who says we can’t handle the capacity of the wine needed to stock Kroger and Walmart (maybe we should remove the state from the alcohol distribution business), you have a pretty dangerous one-two punch that has outgunned citizens who overwhelmingly favor these ideas.
It is abundantly clear that most Mississippians who don’t have a vested interest in the status quo want change. They are tired of having the government make life decisions for them and would prefer that they have the ability to decide if, when, and where they purchase wine, and how it is delivered.
But for now, Mississippi will have these small regulatory changes. For at least a couple months.