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By: Hunter Estes
A few months ago, I wrote with great hope and optimism that 2020 very well could be the “year for alcohol freedom.”
Unfortunately, even before the coronavirus pandemic forced adjustments to the legislative session, legislators were already casting their votes against many widely popular bills that would have expanded the freedom of Mississippians and strengthened entrepreneurs. Or just never considering such bills.
Sunday sale of alcohol. Grocery stores allowed to sell wine. Direct shipment of wine. Expansion of liquor licenses. Privatization of distribution. Craft brewery freedom. Regulatory reform. A range of bills were introduced this session that would have dramatically empowered both consumers and entrepreneurs. Almost every single one of these bills died.
In voting against alcohol freedom, legislators are not only consistently voting against the will of Mississippians but are also crushing potential economic growth of a potentially major industry.
In a survey conducted earlier this year, an overwhelming 75 percent of Mississippians said that they would be in favor of legislation that allows grocery stores to sell wine in addition to beer. Furthermore, 48 percent of those surveyed said they would be more likely to vote for a legislator who had supported such legislation, while only 17 percent said they would be less likely to vote for said candidate.
The survey also found that among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, levels of support were above 70 percent. How often today are individuals across political parties able to so strongly agree on an issue? The present support should have been enough to drive change.
House Bill 981, sponsored by Rep. Brent Powell (R-Flowood) and Senate Bill 2531 sponsored by Sen. Walter Michel (R-Ridgeland) would have changed state policy and allowed for the widely supported sale of wine in grocery stores. Unfortunately, neither bill even made it out of committee, and thus was never given a chance for a floor vote in the House or Senate.
Ironically, many Mississippians shop at stores such as Costco, Whole Foods, Sam’s Club, and others throughout the state who have their own liquor store directly attached to the actual store. However, current law does not allow these stores to be connected internally, so one is forced to walk out the door and then right back in. These types of rules fail to pass even a basic test for common sense.
Mississippi had the opportunity to become the 44th state in the nation to give individuals the freedom to purchase wine and have it shipped directly to their homes through Senate Bill 2534, also authored by Michel. When this bill came to the floor, it was defeated by a vote of 32-13.
At the present moment, it seems that the only bill set to pass would allow for shipment of alcohol to a local liquor store. This allows a customer to avoid the hassle of going through the ABC warehouse process to order a specific bottle of wine or liquor, but is far from embracing the widely supported direct shipment of alcohol to one’s home.
In rejecting many good bills, legislators have chosen to not only restrict freedoms that are widely supported by Mississippians, but also to further hinder the alcohol industry in the state.
Moving forward it seems likely that pandemic has changed the state of the game for many burdensome rules and regulations. Many rules have been dismissed, including ones that blocked the sale of to-go bottles of wine or mixed drinks, as well as the delivery of alcohol curbside. While a pandemic has raged across the nation, many of the rules which we were previously told were enacted for our safety, were quickly thrown out in order to promote actual health and safety via social distancing techniques.
Thus, the question is begged as to what other rules ought to be dismissed to further protect health and safety. Ordering alcohol online via one of the many food delivery apps would surely help to lower the number of physical interactions at stores. The direct shipment of wine to one’s home would also go a long way to improve social distancing methods. As the fear of a Fall Covid-19 return looms, should we not quickly take action to promote and encourage safe actions in any way possible?
Support for change in alcohol policy is not a political issue, but a freedom issue. The question at hand is whether state officials trust their constituents to make decisions related to personal responsibility for themselves.
While this may not have been the year for alcohol freedom, continued growth in support for new policies demands a coming change to the status quo.
Hunter Estes is the Development Manager of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, the state’s non-partisan, free-market think tank.