By Molly M. Fleming
The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill Monday that changes how alcohol is distributed in the state. The bill’s opponents have said the change is unconstitutional.
Senate Bill 608 requires the top 25 wine and spirits manufacturers to offer their products to all wholesalers. The new law, which becomes effective 90 days after the Legislature ends its session, represents an about-face from the distribution rules approved in State Question 792. Under those rules, which became effective less than seven months ago, wine and spirits suppliers are free to choose any wholesaler to sell their products to liquor stores.
Tulsa-based Boardwalk Distribution owner Bryan Hendershot advocated for SB 608. He said when the laws changed in October, he didn’t get any of the top 100 brands to take statewide, such as Jim Beam or Jack Daniel’s. As a result, his sales have declined.
Hendershot said he was pleased the governor signed the bill into law.
“As I have said repeatedly, this is not just about Boardwalk,” Hendershot said in a prepared statement. “This is a great day for small business owners across the state, who today got their voices back.”
But the new law is likely to face a legal challenge. The alcohol laws are written into the state’s constitution. It took a vote of the people to change the laws in October 2016. Opponents to SB 608 have said this distribution change is unconstitutional because the change was made legislatively.
Institute for Responsible Alcohol Policy President John Maisch said he expects that an alcohol wholesaler or supplier will file a lawsuit regarding this bill becoming law. Maisch said his members declined to comment further about the legislation.
The bill was co-authored by state Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, and state Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City. On the Senate floor, David said the bill wasn’t perfect, but it could be the perfect relief for the state’s distributors. She called the current system a duopoly.
The bill was also supported by some liquor store owners because they said the change would help keep their top-sold items on the shelves. Some store owners said it would also give them more power in choosing from what wholesaler they buy their top brands.
During the same Senate discussion, state Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, who spearheaded the alcohol law changes in 2016, said there are more distributors in the state now than before October 2018. She said the bill goes against the will of the people and asked that an interim study be done to look at fixing the delivery problems. She called the bill misguided, not well thought out, bad form, and bad policy.