Wine Freedom in the South? Tennessee Direct Shipping Bill Passes the Senate

Greg Tessitore | April 27, 2009

Tennessee, one of 13 states that still bans direct-to-consumer shipping, took steps towards ending that association on April 13, 2009 when the Senate-approved Senate Bill 166, which allows direct shipments of wine. Currently, anyone who transports wine into Tennessee by bypassing the three-tier system is committing a felony (see Section 57-3-401.b of the Tennessee Code) an act that bill sponsor Senator Paul Stanley says is already widely committed. Due to this continuous violation of existing law, Senator Stanley calls SB 166 a “common-sense bill.”  Senate Bill 166 requires out-of-state wineries to obtain a $300 license non-refundable application fee and $150 annual permit fee and also sets a shipping limit of 3 cases per calendar year per individual consumer.

During the Senate Committee hearings, there was lengthy questioning regarding enforcement mechanisms to ensure out-of-state wineries are in compliance. Senator Tim Burchett also voiced concerns about the lack of jurisdiction that the Tennessee Alcohol Beverage Commission has over out-of-state wineries, to which committee chair Senator Bill Ketron responded with a quote from Section 1.C.2 of the bill, which states that applicants must, “execute a consent to jurisdiction and venue of all actions… in the state of Tennessee.” Senator Ketron also noted other enforcement mechanisms such as a clause that makes direct shipping without a permit a Class (E) Felony. Primary Sponsor Senator Stanley addressed the doubts about enforcement and compliance by pointing to many other states that have successfully instituted and enforced direct shipping laws. In addition to mentioning the success of other direct-shipping states, bill supporters also noted that SB166 could bring in an estimated $10 million in additional annual revenue.

The approved version of the bill was passed in the Senate by a 22-8 margin with two amendments, imposed by the Senate Finance, Ways and Means committee. The first amendment reduced the total annual wine shipments allowed to one resident to 27-Liters from the original 108 Liters per year, with a one case per month limit. The second amendment was apparently inserted with no specific purpose except to appease the three-tier distribution system by stating that nothing in the direct shipping bill is meant to “diminish the three-tiered scheme.” The Senate-approved version of SB 166 also requires wineries to report the appropriate sales and gallonage taxes, and direct shippers must keep records of all shipments in case the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission requests such information. Now that the bill has moved through the Senate, it awaits discussion and approval by the House Government Operations Committee.

In February, Tennessee’s Attorney General chose to level-down by banning all direct-to-consumer shipments and transports of wine for personal use. Only two months later, however, the passage of SB 166 in the Senate demonstrates willingness to accommodate consumer demand by opening up the state to direct shipping.