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Senate trashes multiple bills updating Mississippi’s jumbled alcohol laws

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Not many people are toasting on Tuesday night as lawmakers in the Mississippi Senate chose to kill a handful of alcohol-related bills.

House Bill 329 and House Bill 430 – both of which passed overwhelmingly in their originating chamber – would have put Mississippi with the majority of the U.S. in terms of when and how alcohol is sold, allowing liquor stores to open on Sunday as well as allowing residents to have wine directly shipped to their homes.

Regarding the latter, Sen. Jeremy England pleaded with fellow members of the Senate Finance Committee to let the full floor decide on whether Mississippi should join 48 other states in opening direct-to-consumer shipping laws for out-of-state wineries.

“I think it’s time for us to consider moving this out of committee and getting this on the floor where our colleagues can take a look at it,” the Republican from Vancleave said. “I understand that there are some concerns from our package liquor stores, but I also know that there are other states that allow direct ship that also have package liquor stores and they seem to be doing fine.”

England also questioned why they would kill the bill considering another one recently passed their committee that would allow Mississippi manufacturers to ship to other states.

“If I recall correctly, earlier this year, we passed a bill to allow distillers of wine and other beverages in Mississippi to have additional warehouse space so that they could accommodate customers in other states,” England continued. “So, we are allowing wineries to ship directly to consumers in other states … It’s just time for us to get on board with this.”

Even with England’s arguments, other members cited concerns they have received from liquor and package stores worried that a different route to market would negatively affect their business. While the committee initially approved a strike-all where they could place their own amended language in the legislation, it ultimately did not make it out alive.

Another bill killed by the Senate Finance Committee that would have seriously ironed out some of Mississippi’s carryover laws from the days of Prohibition was House Bill 777. The legislation, authored by Republican Rep. Hank Zuber of Ocean Springs, would have allowed more small towns across the state to sell wine and liquor.

The bill, which passed in the House 93-21 in early February, would have automatically legalized the sale and manufacture of wine and liquor in municipalities with 5,000 or fewer residents inside a dry county (After Prohibition was lifted, Mississippi counties were given the option to sell hard liquor or not – thus becoming “wet” or “dry”). Zuber argued that small-town tourism is suffering partially because of the inability to host events that include liquor and wine.

“Over the years, many of you have come to [us] and said when are we going to bring some common sense to our alcohol public policy and laws? When are we going to bring Mississippi into the 21st century? Well, now is the time,” Zuber told his chamber counterparts prior to their approval.

The Mississippi Department of Revenue’s map on which counties are dry and which ones are wet (Image courtesy of MDOR)

“In those smaller cities, this would allow these cities to get the permit for a special event that sells wine and alcohol. This will allow our smaller cities – just like our medium and larger cities – to have tasting events.”

The legislation would not have changed the status of Mississippi’s 31 dry counties. Instead, it would have added more municipalities to the list of places where hard liquor and wine can be sold but could also be rescinded through a vote. Current law allows larger municipalities within dry counties to sell hard alcohol if implemented through a local election (e.g., Oxford and Starkville are both in dry counties). Smaller towns have not yet been given that opportunity.

Mississippi – the last state to lift Prohibition-era laws in 1966 – has consistently been behind others when it comes to regulations surrounding alcohol, and Tuesday further showcased why.

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