Legislative Corner: The Top Issues & Actions of January 2022
C-stores are blocked from selling wine spritzers in Kentucky, as New York's Styrofoam ban takes effect and Philadelphia enacts a vaccine mandate for on-site dining.
NATIONAL REPORT — Convenience Store News canvasses local trade associations and news sources to cover the latest issues affecting the channel locally.
This month, a number of local legislative activities occurred in three key states: Kentucky, New York and Pennsylvania:
ABC Opinion Means No Wine Spritzers & No Weak Wines
Grocery retailers and convenience store operators were again left out in the cold due to a recent affirmation in a decision by the Department for Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) on wine spritzers.
The affirmation upheld the reversal of a 2020 ABC opinion that classified wine spritzers as weak ciders, allowing them to be sold in grocery stores. Six months after that opinion, the Kentucky Retail Federation (KRF) asked if grocers could sell weak wines under the definition of "weak ciders," and the answer was yes. However, in August 2021, ABC reversed that opinion, meaning grocers and c-stores could no longer sell wine spritzers and weak wines.
A request was made to reverse the August opinion. On Dec. 6, ABC released an opinion affirming that wine spritzers and weak wines are not considered weak ciders.
KRF expressed frustration that grocery and c-stores are once again prohibited from selling these products, adding that the next step would be to file a lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court challenging the ruling. It welcomes member feedback to determine these next steps.
Logo Panel Sign Fee Increase Regulation Withdrawn
The Transportation Cabinet proposed to amend 603 KAR 6:070 to increase the cost of logo panel signs placed at interstate exits where gas stations, restaurants and tourist attractions pay a fee to have their logo placed on signs informing travelers where these businesses are located. The amendment to the regulation would have doubled the current annual fee from $600 to $1,200.
KRF submitted comments opposing the regulation. For the time being, the Cabinet has decided to withdraw the proposed amendment to the regulation, meaning that it will not go forward. KRF plans to closely monitor all legislation in case the Cabinet seek to increase the fees in statute or file a new amendment to the regulation.
Tobacco Wholesalers Seek Increase in Vendor Compensation
Tobacco wholesalers that are required to affix tobacco tax stamps to cigarettes are requesting an increase in compensation for the tax collection services they provide to the commonwealth. The compensation has not increased since 1954 and is significantly below most of Kentucky's surrounding states. Wholesalers are requesting an increase to cover the costs of labor and stamping machines themselves, whose costs have significantly increased since 1954.
As 2022 is a budget year and legislators have expressed their desire for tax reform, it is likely that there will be a revenue bill proposed that could give tobacco wholesalers the opportunity to make such a change. This will overall reduce states revenues collected from tobacco taxes, but not significantly.
NYACS Issues Agenda
Advocating for a more gradual, market-driven transition to greener energy sources, blocking a proposed ban on flavored tobacco and winning an increase in retail lottery commissions are the top three objectives on the New York Association of Convenience Stores' (NYACS) 2022 Issues Agenda.
Compiled by the NYACS Legislative Committee, it is a blueprint for lobbying efforts by NYACS members, staff and retained lobbyists during the 2022 legislative session, which opened Jan. 5 with Governor Kathy Hochul's State of the State address.
Styrofoam Ban in Effect
The state's ban in polystyrene cups and takeout food containers took effect Jan. 1. The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which still hasn't released the final regulations for implementing the policy, stated that initially it will concentrate on "continued outreach efforts...to advise affected entities about the ban, particularly sellers and distributors of disposable food service containers, such as retail food stores," rather than strict enforcement.
UI Trust Fund
NYACS and 28 other New York business organizations have asked Governor Hochul to allocate COVID relief funds received from Washington to repay $9 billion the state's Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Fund had to borrow to weather the pandemic, rather than charging New York employers billions in higher UI taxes.
"A large share of 2020 job loss was driven by pandemic-based public policy mandates, not employer actions; consequently, New York State has the responsibility to address this issue," the joint letter read.
Minimum Wage Hike
As of Dec. 31, 2021, the New York State general occupation minimum wage increased from $14 an hour to $15 in Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester counties, and from $12.50 to $13.20 in the rest of upstate. It remains at $15 in New York City. The "fast food" minimum wage — applying to fast-food chains and branded quick-service restaurants inside convenience stores — is at $15 for the upstate region.
Vax Mandate for On-Site Dining
The City of Philadelphia announced that effective Jan. 3, Philadelphia establishments that sell food or drink for consumption on site will require that everyone who enters has completed their COVID-19 vaccinations. Completing vaccinations means that they have received two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
This mandate will not be applied in K-12 and early childcare settings, hospitals, congregate care facilities, special population providers that serve food, residential or healthcare facilities, grocery stores, convenience stores or other establishments that primarily sell food and drink for offsite use, or in Philadelphia International Airport, except in traditional seated restaurants or seated bar-style locations.
The Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association (PFMA) is involved with the city and other stakeholders to work through open questions that remain surrounding the mandate's implementation.
Liquor Bills Move Forward in General Assembly
Two pieces of liquor-related legislation progressed in the Pennsylvania General Assembly during the last week of session in 2021.
SB 566 was amended with Ready to Drink Beverage language supported and advocated by PFMA. The amended bill is backed by a broad coalition of supermarkets, c-stores, beer wholesalers, distillers and trade associations. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 26-24 and will go to the House for consideration.
Also moving forward was HB 2059, which amends the Liquor Code to remove certain square footage requirements such that customers can purchase beer and wine at any register of a wine expanded permit holder. PFMA supports and has pushed this legislation, which now awaits House floor votes in the new year.