Op-Ed

Federal bill not aimed at distillers

At issue | May 28 Herald-Leader editorial, "Protect the brand; Federal bill could weaken bourbon standards"

Recently, the Kentucky Distillers' Association, in letters to the Congressional Bourbon Caucus and to various Kentucky news organizations, has blatantly mischaracterized the attempt to reinforce the states' rights to regulate the sale, distribution and use of all alcohol beverage products by introducing H.R. 5034, the Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness (CARE) Act.

This legislation — supported by the National Beer Wholesalers Association, The National Alcohol Beverage Control Association, the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, the Kentucky Beer Wholesalers Association, the Kentucky Malt Beverage Council, the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Kentucky — includes three main points:

■ Reaffirms that it is the intent of Congress that each state or territory continues to have the primary authority to regulate alcoholic beverages;

■ Prohibits unjustified discrimination against out-of-state producers of alcoholic beverages in favor of in-state producers;

■ Establishes higher evidentiary standards for legal actions challenging the authority of states to regulate alcoholic beverages.

The well-respected distillery, Buffalo Trace, is also troubled by the unprecedented number of challenges to the integrity of the 21st Amendment, resulting regulatory framework and the three-tier system.

Unchecked, these challenges will result in the effective deregulation of the sale of alcohol in the United States, eliminating states' rights to regulate the sale of alcohol.

Like the other co-signors of this letter, Buffalo Trace is concerned by the courts' position in a number of alcohol-related cases which suggests that state laws are invalid.

This results in costly litigation while further eroding individual state's authority over alcohol regulation. Opponents of the legislation have argued that the bill would now allow individual states to adopt their own formulation requirements and labeling and bottling standards. Simply put, this is a false claim.

Under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, states are free to set their own laws and regulations, including labeling requirements. In fact, many states take advantage of this liberty. Unlike the KDA's claims, the CARE Act does not seek to reverse or enhance this.

Additionally, under the FAA Act, states may create their own formulation requirements for products produced strictly for in-state production and distribution. Clearly, the states already have the ability to define formulation requirements.

As a whole, those supporting this needed congressional act have no desire or intent to alter federal labeling or formulation laws. More than anything, we already have a vested financial interest in the brands we produce, distribute and sell.

It is wholly unfounded to suggest that we would support any legislation that would lead to the devaluation of our various products and brands.

Furthermore, certain news organizations have editorialized that the CARE Act would enable individual states to somehow put restraints on mail-order wine sales. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in the Granholm case that states could not discriminate between suppliers domiciled within a state's jurisdiction and those located beyond the borders. In fact, the CARE Act reaffirms the Granholm decision.

Recently, the professional organization that makes up regulators from various states (National Alcohol Beverage Control Association or NABCA) adopted a resolution endorsing the CARE Act. Unfortunately, the same news organizations that were so quick to criticize the proposed legislation have yet to acknowledge this action.

NABCA Board Chairman and Director of the Maine State Liquor and Lottery Commission Dan Gwadosky noted, "As control state regulators we are entrusted with balancing our responsibilities for protecting communities and providing a fair and modern alcohol marketplace. It is critical that we have the full ability to adapt to new opportunities and challenges that we may face with respect to this unique product."

The CARE Act is an important piece of federal legislation that underscores this nation's desire to regulate the sale, distribution and use of all alcohol beverage products.

Who is better to do that than the individual states and their respective elected officials?

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