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Wine consumers may soon receive home deliveries

A proposal to allow Maryland wine drinkers to get bottles shipped directly to their homes has won the approval of two key legislative committees.

The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Matters Committee and the House Economic Matters Committee both voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to send the direct-ship proposal to the full legislature.

The development bodes well for the legislation; in years past, those two committees have bottled up the plan, which is popular among consumers.

"It's a good bill," said Sen. Roy Dyson, the Senate committee's vice chairman and a Southern Maryland Democrat. "And it has been a long time coming."

The legislation represents a compromise.

Wine consumer advocacy groups had pushed to allow retailers — not just wineries — to ship to Maryland homes. But the alcoholic beverage industry, which had long opposed any form of direct shipping, supported the bill this year on the condition that it be limited to wineries.

House Economic Matters Chairman Dereck Davis said the legislation "advances the ball."

"We were able to get something satisfactory to all sides," the Prince George's County Democrat said.

Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat who is a Baptist minister, abstained from voting on the legislation, as he does with all liquor matters. Every other lawmaker on the two committees voted in favor of it.

Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia allow the direct shipment of wine from wineries to residences. Twelve of them also allow shipments from retailers.

Local wineries said the direct-ship legislation would help them. Many states do not allow Maryland wineries to mail bottles into their states, since their own wineries can't ship to Marylanders.

Under the Senate's proposal, Marylanders would be able to have a maximum of 18 cases per year shipped to their homes from wineries. Wineries would pay $200 per year for a permit to ship to homes.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch cheered Tuesday's development and predicted that the direct-ship proposal would gain passage.

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