alcohol sales

Advocate staff file photo by Michael G. Seamans

Customers itching to order a bottle of wine with their Waitr order had their hopes dashed Thursday after two alcohol delivery bills were killed in the House Judiciary committee.

Senate Bill 489 by Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, and House Bill 285 by Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, aimed to establish rules for retailers and third-party delivery services, like Waitr and Instacart, to deliver factory sealed alcoholic beverages to customers.

Morrish’s SB489, the lead measure on the issue, underwent significant changes as it wound its way through the Senate to the House committee.

First, the legislation replaced Morrish’s original measure, Senate Bill 246, and then additional amendments changed permitting requirements, the delivery verification process and the licensing of third party services, among other things.

Morrish said the changes were efforts to accommodate the bill’s various stakeholders while adequately policing the new service and navigating a complex issue. In an attempt to balance concerns, Morrish had Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, bring an amendment to place rulemaking authority with the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control.

The amendment proposed a new Class A-Transporters permit and made the ATC responsible for outlining the specifics pursuant to legislative oversight. Lawmakers weren’t thrilled by the idea of handing rulemaking authority to the Alcohol and Tobacco Control, saying Morrish, Stefanski and Magee were punting responsibility to an outside commission.

Magee said similar methods have been followed in the past with other licenses, and yielding to the ATC’s expertise would prevent lawmakers from being paralyzed by perfection while trying to weigh stakeholders’ interests.

“If Louisiana constantly waits for everybody else to figure it out for us so we can go and adopt their measures, we’re always going to be last,” Magee said. “We’re always last to the table and we’re always the last to capture the new modern economy.”

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ATC Commissioner Juana Marine-Lombard also raised concerns about overseeing the new permit. Lombard said similar arrangements in the past included a more defined legal outline of what and how the permit should be executed. She said there were also issues with the proposal itself, including increased costs for the ATC and a lack of liability for third-party delivery services.

Morrish said the measure’s various iterations provided a framework to inform the ATC’s decisions, and collaboration with lawmakers could ease any apprehensions.

Magee said passing on the delivery measures would be a lost economic opportunity. Waitr, founded in Lake Charles, and Rouses Markets, headquartered in Thibodaux, were in favor of the legislation and eager to expand the delivery market.

“We always talk about creating economic opportunity and supporting local business. What we’re asking you to do here today is to commit to support these local businesses as they grow and to build out the infrastructure to allow them to do that,” Magee said.

Magee and Morrish’s move to wipe SB489 failed in a 3-13 vote, and Morrish chose to pivot attention to Stefanski’s HB285. Stefanski’s bill was a duplicate measure outlining rules for the retailers, delivery services and oversight process similar to Morrish’s original bill.

Despite maneuvering, Stefanski’s bill still failed by a 4-12 vote. As a consolation, House members passed a resolution on the floor to establish the Louisiana Alcohol Delivery Task Force to make recommendations on the issue.

HCR85, by Magee, would create an 11 person task force including representatives from the ATC, Beer Industry League of Louisiana Inc., Wine and Spirits Foundation of Louisiana, Louisiana Retailers Association and Louisiana Restaurant Association to outline concerns and develop a path forward for legalized same-day alcohol delivery.