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March 16, 2021

Bills to support alcohol sales at Maine restaurants, bars and distilleries go to Mills' desk

a bar with a closeup of a dark beer and an out of focus image in the background of a bartender and a martini like drink Photo / Maureen Milliken Maine bars, distilleries and restuarants that sell alcohol got a boost with passage of a bill that allows them to continue take-out alcohol sales until next year.

A trio of bills that make it easier for Maine restaurants, bars and distilleries that have been hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic to continue to do business were enacted by the Maine Legislature Friday.

A bill that allows restaurants, bars and distilleries to serve alcohol to go and another that expands the market for liquor manufacturers were passed unanimously by the state Senate. They are now before Gov. Janet Mills for approval.

A bill that waives renewal fees for on-premises retail liquor licenses was passed unanimously and sent to the Special Appropriations Table.

Mills has 10 days to sign the bills into law, veto them or allow them to become law without her signature. The alcohol-to-go bill, LD 205, and the renewal fee waiver, LD 378, are emergency measures  that would take effect immediately upon becoming law. The expanded market for liquor manufacturers would take effect April 1.

“Maine’s food and beverage businesses are a big part of what draws people to our state every year," said state Sen. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, who sponsored all three of the bills. "These businesses have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, even as they worked hard to adjust how they operate in order to keep their doors open, their workers on payroll and their customers safe. It only makes sense to me that we offer them a bit of relief. I’m grateful my colleagues in the Legislature agree with me so strongly.”

The bills passed by the Senate Friday are:

LD 205 extends to April 15, 2022, the ability of bars and restaurants to sell alcohol to customers through take-out and delivery service if it's accompanied by a food order, a practice that's been allowed for the past year. It also temporarily permits license distilleries that operate tasting rooms but don't have on-premises retail establishments to sell alcohol its through take-out and delivery service unaccompanied by a food order.

LD 307  Allows businesses that manufacture all types of alcohol to sell directly to out-of-state consumers if the consumer’s state of residence permits it. Current law limits direct sales to out-of-state consumers to wine. The bill also clarifies that alcohol bought by out-of-state distributors is not subject to Maine excise tax. Out-of-state consumers who buy alcohol directly from Maine manufacturers also wouldn't have to pay the Maine spirit tax.

LD 378 would temporarily exempt from fees any restaurant or other entity renewing a license to sell beer, wine or spirits for on-premises consumption if the license expires this year.

The Legislature is considering more than 2,000 bills this session, many of which address, or would affect, business and employment. Some that are being discussed by committees this week are.

LD 597, which creates a new Wood Energy Investment Program that would provide incentives and low- or no-interest loans to businesses that produce energy using biomass. There is a public hearing on the bill today at 1:30.

LD 498, 501 and 570 all address changes to the state's tax code. The first reauthorizes a 3% tax on income over $200,000 and has a work session Thursday; 501 increases the top corporate tax rate from 8.93% to 12.4%; 570 establishes a 3% surcharge on net capital gains and dividends over $250,000 and has a work session today.

LD 698 Allows the state Department of Health and Human Services to use up to 25% of Community Development Block Grant money to support high quality child care contracts for underserved areas of the state. 

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