ABC Reform Commission Begins Work

The Commission to Study Reform of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law, created as part of this year’s State Budget, began its work last month. The Commission was added to the Budget Bill at the insistence of several legislators and outside interests as part of the negotiations to authorize cocktails to go. Its task is to vote on recommendations to modernize and simplify the state’s 90-year-old alcohol laws and to issue a final report by May 1, 2023.

The statutory language that created the Commission named several members of the Governor’s Cabinet to the panel and provided that an additional ten members were to be appointed by the Governor, two members were to be appointed by the Senate Majority Leader and the Assembly Speaker, and one member was to be appointed by the Senate Minority Leader and the Assembly Minority Leader. Governor Hochul appointed three on-premises representatives, attorneys representing Empire Merchants and Southern Wine & Spirits, a liquor store representative, a representative of the distilled spirits industry, a craft spirits & wine producer, a cider producer, and a representative of a statewide business group. Also appointed to the Commission were two additional liquor store representatives, another representative of the on-premises industry, a brewer, a representative of the beer wholesaler industry, and Counsel to a state legislator. No one was appointed representing grocery beer licensees.

Our Association does not have a representative on the panel and, because the State Liquor Authority has made all proceedings of the Commission private, we can’t monitor the meetings and inform you about their work until their report is issued next year. We have heard that not much was accomplished at the first meeting. We expect to continue to receive unofficial updates as their meetings unfold.

The Commission is accepting public comment and we intend to submit comments prior to their next meeting on October 25th. The primary focus of our testimony will be the problems caused by the legal monopolies held by Empire and Southern. The very existence of these monopolies places retailers at their mercy – and the smaller the business the more of a chokehold these wholesalers have on them. The general pricing schedule discriminates against small purchases and that is only made worse by the delivery fees and split case charges the wholesalers add to pad their profits.

We’ll make the case for ABC reform to address this issue. Possible solutions include co-op/group buying, allowing on-premises licensees to buy liquor from liquor stores, or    requiring every manufacturer to have at least two wholesalers in the state. While it’s unlikely any of these changes will get past the two liquor wholesaler representatives on the panel, it’s important to make the point.

Members of the public can submit comments to the Liquor Authority about ABC reform. You can submit your comments to [email protected]. Weigh in on the liquor wholesalers issue or any other change you think would be beneficial to your business. Let the SLA know what you think!