In a nip and tuck battle in Maine, the state’s Governor and the Legislature are going back and forth on efforts to control litter. It seems those little 50ml liquor bottles commonly referred to as “Nips” are being tossed out of car windows nearly as often as cigarette butts.
1978 Bottle Bill
The state of Maine enacted the Maine Returnable Beverage Container or “Bottle Bill” program in 1978 that required a deposit be paid on bottles purchased in the state. The refundable deposit for spirits and wine beverages larger than 50ml is $.15, thus the law excluded the now very popular 50ml bottles. Beer, hard cider, wine coolers, soda, or noncarbonated water beverage container fee was set lower at $.05 per container.
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A Push to Get the Nips Off the Streets
In January 2017 bill LD 56, “An Act To Include 50 Milliliter and Smaller Liquor Bottles in the Laws Governing Returnable Containers” sponsored by Representative Anne-Marie Mastraccio was proposed. Initially, the bill asked for the $.15 per 50ml bottles just like the larger bottles. After negotiations, that amount on the proposed law was lowered to $.05.
Governor Says the Bill Will Cost the State $1 Million
Governor LePage pointed out that supporters of this bill dishonestly exempted it from going to the Appropriations table to hide the true cost of the bill. Implementation of this bill is estimated to cost the State of Maine $1 million a year. However, the legislature did not appropriate funds to cover the cost. Instead, the bill’s sponsor took the cost from revenue in the state’s liquor contract, proceeds of which are used to fund drinking water programs and roads and bridges, as provided in statute.
“This is yet another anti-business vote that threatens jobs, increases costs to do business and puts the state’s financial health at risk,” said Governor LePage.
“Legislators say they want to prevent the littering of empty ‘nip’ bottles, but they do not care if it cuts funding to other state programs or increases costs for companies that do business here,” said Governor LePage. “Senator Saviello said he would call my bluff that I would delist 50-millileter ‘nip’ bottles if this bill passes. A Maine legislator should know better than that. If this bill is passed, I will veto the bill, and I will instruct the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages & Lottery Operations to begin working immediately with the Liquor and Lottery Commission to delist all nips from sale in Maine. I do so with regret, but the severe impact of this bill leaves me no choice.”
Nip Sales are on Fire in the State
The states liquor stores sold some 8.4 million nips last year and that number is expected to climb to 12 million in 2017. The number one selling 50ml bottle in the state is Sazerac Co’s Fireball Cinnamon Whisky. Distilled spirits purists often snicker at flavored whisky but, when it comes to dollars and sense and what consumers like, flavored whisky in these small bottles is quite popular.
According to Maine’s Sun Journal, a letter sent by Sazerac Co. CEO Mark Brown to the Senate president last month, Brown said a ban would have “a drastic impact” on Sazerac’s sales in the state.
“He told lawmakers the market for nips is growing quickly and will soon make up 15 percent of the overall market for liquor sales in Maine and warned them that banning nips would cost the state millions.”
Sazerac has two dogs in this fight. First of all sales, 15% is a lot especially for a company their size. Second of all, the company employs about 130 people in Lewiston where Fireball is finished and bottled. With the Governor’s threat to remove the 50ml bottles from Maine liquor store shelves, Brown has publicly pulled his support for the bill.
Bill LD 56 Approved, Vetoed, Overwritten & Now Law
Despite the Governors promise to fight the bill the Senate and House both approved the bill. The Governor then went on and vetoed the Bill LD 56. On June 7, 2017 the Senate overrode the veto and the bill became law. You can see the full text of the law below.
As promised, with the passing of the bill, Governor LePage is moving ahead to fight the law by having all 50 ml liquor bottles delisted from the states liquor stores.
July Meeting to Delist 50ml Bottles from Maine Liquor Stores
State Liquor and Lottery Commission – Public Notice
In accordance with 28-A M.R.S. section 81(2) and (4), the State Liquor and Lottery Commission (“the Commission”) shall conduct a public meeting to consider the recommendation of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations (“the Bureau”) that all 50 milliliter sized spirits products currently listed by the Commission be de-listed. The meeting will be held on July 11, 2017 at 10:00am at the Augusta State Armory, 179 Western Avenue, Augusta, Maine.
The full summary of his proposal can be seen below.
Get ready for some fireworks!