Now it’s up to the Legislature to decide on a veto override vote, which could lead LePage to simply ban the sale of the small liquor bottles in Maine.
by Kevin Miller, staff writer
Portland Press Herald news story
AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage followed through on his pledge to veto a bill to impose a 5-cent deposit on miniature liquor bottles and is once again threatening to ban all “nips” sales in Maine as the Legislature presses the issue.
In his veto message to the Legislature, LePage said the bill is the wrong approach to the dual problems of littering and drunk driving. Rather than adding 50-milliliter “nips” to Maine’s bottle deposit bill, LePage said lawmakers should either increase penalties for littering or ban sales of the popular mini liquor bottles altogether.
“Absent increased penalties, which this bill failed to impose, an alternative approach is to discontinue the sale of 50ml bottles containing alcohol all together,” LePage wrote. “If this bill passes, I have directed the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverage and Lottery Operations to work with the Liquor and Lottery Commission to delist these products for sale in Maine.”
Nips sales have soared in recent years, but so has the problem of nips litter. The bill, L.D. 56, originally proposed a refundable 15-cent deposit on every nips purchase as a way to discourage buyers from carelessly tossing the bottle out of the car window while encouraging others to collect the nips from roadside ditches or along the curb to cash them in for the deposit.
Maine liquor stores sold an estimated 8.4 million nips bottles in fiscal year 2016. That figure is expected to grow to 12 million this year, propelled in part by the popularity of a single brand: Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey.
Fireball is finished and bottled at a Lewiston facility owned by Sazerac Company, the nation’s largest distiller. The CEO of Sazerac, Mark Brown, had been involved in legislative discussions to reduce the original 15-cent deposit to 5 cents. But in a letter sent last week to a legislative leader, Brown warned that the governor’s new threat to end nips sales in Maine would have “a drastic impact on our company and our employees.”
Sazerac employs roughly 130 people at the Lewiston plant.
“While we could have lived with a 5 cent redemption sticker if the state really thought that would solve the littering problem, we can no longer support the legislation while under the threat of having 50 mls delisted,” wrote Brown. “Such a move would be detrimental to the state’s finances as this is one of the fastest growing sectors in Maine.”
A Sazerac spokeswoman was unavailable for comment on Monday.
The bill passed the House on a 111-34 vote two weeks ago and the Senate by a margin of 32-3. But the LePage administration is often successful in flipping House Republican votes after vetoes, and the bill was not brought up for reconsideration during Monday’s House floor session.