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A Look Ahead at the 2016 Maryland Legislative Session

Posted by on in January 2016 Editions
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The next General Assembly Session is just around the corner, and the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA) will once again be taking a lead role in looking out for the beverage industry's interests.  This means guys like MSLBA President David Marberger and his close colleagues are expected to step up and drive the discussions.


"We're at the rough and ready every year at this time," said the proprietor of Bay Ridge Wine and Spirits in Annapolis.  "In 2016, we plan on working very diligently at getting a really good relationship going with the Maryland microbreweries, the distilleries, and the wineries.  We really need to forge together as a cohesive unit.  There will always be some issues that we won't see eye to eye on.  But all of us coming together in this industry as an industry so we can move forward is a must and something we really want to focus on."

Closer cooperation and collaboration will be a must if the industry is going to continue challenging any and all attempts to get legislation passed that would allow grocery, big-box, and convenience stores to obtain off-premise beer and wine licenses.  Marberger remarked, "I would love it if there was legislation that says chain stores will never be allowed to sell alcohol in the State of Maryland.  That's the dream legislation, and that's really the battle we're keeping our eyes out for first and foremost.  Since the early 1970s, I think, there has always been something in this regard that pops up.  We're lucky in that we usually have three or four years of things toning down and being quiet before the momentum starts to build back up.  It helps that we're not the only state fighting this battle."

Attorney and MSLBA lobbyist Steve Wise expressed another concern.  "Total Wine has had a push now for several years now to change the law so they can hold more than one license," he said.  "While that has been defeated, I'm sure it will be reintroduced this year and debated again.  That's just something our membership feels will change the composition of the industry in a negative way.  It's been one person, one license for 80 years, and we feel that has generated a lot of small businesses.  That's a good thing."


Marberger and Wise have been vocal champions of small business enterprise in the Old Line State, and both are fiercely protective when they see any legislative effort developing that seeks to undermine such operators.  "We are all essentially small businesses," the former stated.  "There are some larger retailers than others, some larger wineries than others, and distillers and breweries, too.  But the fact of the matter is, we all started out as small, mom-and-pop, family businesses trying to put products out that people like and are worthy of being on the streets.  That's what we want to keep here in Maryland."

MSLBA Legislative Chairman Jack Milani agreed.  "We have to keep stressing to our members that they need to develop relationships with their legislators before they are in session and before these issues go down.  Reach out and have a discussion with your delegate or with your senator, and let them know how many people you employ and what your business means to the community.  Make it so they have a connection.  Get a dialogue going."


"Dram shop" liability is one big issue that will likely generate a lot of dialogue in the new year.  If it is ever adopted, this legal doctrine would permit vendors of alcohol to be sued by individuals who have suffered injury at the hands of a patron of that vendor.  As a result, the owner of a tavern where a customer unwisely opts to drink and then drive and hits another vehicle could be sued by the occupants of the other vehicle.

"We have been lucky enough to keep dram shop away," stated Marberger.  "But that's something that could always rear its head, and something we are all keeping a careful eye on."

Marberger went on to concur with Miliani that it is of critical importance for MSLBA members to get to know their local elected officials.  Just as essential, let them get to know you, who you are, and what you do.  "The economic impact that we all as businesspeople on the community, and therefore the state, is extremely large," he said.  "There was a Colorado study I read not too long ago that stated 52 percent of the dollars that are brought into a local retail store go right back out into the community versus 10 to 15 percent of the dollars that go into a major chain or box store go back into the community."

Marberger continued, "We ARE the community!  Letting your local officials know who you are, what you do, how many people you employ, and the monetary contributions that we make are all very important things.  If your elected officials know who you are, they are more apt to give you that 10, 15, or 20 minutes that you're looking for when there is an issue that you really want them to address.   And if you get to the point where they call you as the licensee to say, 'Hey, what do you think about this?'  That's a perfect position to be in.  Because at that point, to them, you're the expert.  You're the person they're coming to in order to find out the real skinny instead of listening to a lobbyist on this side or a lobbyist on that side."

Milani, who has co-owned Monaghan's Pub in Woodlawn since 1990, went a step further.  "Indeed, if you can get them into your place of business, that's so important," he said.  "Then, they can better understand what your business is all about and what you're all about.  It gives them a better perspective of what the effects of some of these bills really are, and that they should keep small business owners top of the mind." 

Maryland's Montgomery County promises to be top of the mind for many in 2016.  "There is going to be discussion this year about getting Montgomery County out of the liquor business," Wise predicted.  "Montgomery is one of four Maryland jurisdictions that are still in the business.  It's a big operation, as you can imagine, and I think there is going to be a lot of discussion this session about whether you can allow private wholesalers there, about whether there should be more privately run liquor stores, and so forth.  This has been debated before over the last 20 years or so.  No changes have been made, but it's something we're very supportive of.  It's a big project."

Looking ahead, all concerned are hopeful that member involvement in the MSLBA and in the state capital will continue to rise.  Milani commented, "If anyone new to the business reading this wants a voice and some say in the direction they think the business should be going in, then get involved in the association.  Someone new might have a different perspective that ends up being very valuable to us."

Wise, an attorney with the law firm of Schwartz, Metz, and Wise in Annapolis, cheekily concluded, "There is an old phrase, 'Get into politics or get out of business.'  That is certainly true in Maryland.



Teddy is a graduate of UMBC. In additional to his Beverage Journal writing duties, he is an entertainment reviewer.