Ecology Rolls Out Washington’s First Winery General Permit to Regulate Discharges of Wastewater

Beginning in mid-2019, many Washington wineries will need a permit from the state Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) to discharge wastewater. Ecology issued the state’s first five-year Winery General Permit (the “permit”) on May 17, 2018, but delayed its effective date until July 1, 2019. The new permit will regulate discharges of process wastewater from wineries to land, groundwater, and wastewater treatment plants. No surface water discharges will be allowed under the permit. Ecology has not determined how much a permit will cost, but the new rules in the permit will add financial burden to businesses and may hinder the growth of small wineries.

Ecology decided to develop the general permit due to the rapid increase of wine production in Washington. However, according to Ecology’s Fact Sheet, wineries have not been a “major source” of pollution in Washington. Although Ecology stated in one of the agency’s Responses to Public Comments that “it was unable to find documented evidence of a Washington winery polluting groundwater,” it maintained that “a lack of evidence does not mean groundwater is not being impacted.”

The new permit will apply to wineries that discharge at least 53,505 gallons of wastewater or produce at least 7,500 cases (17,835 gallons) of wine or juice per calendar year. More specifically, wineries that meet the above threshold numbers will need the permit if they discharge wastewater according to one or more of the following methods: (1) to a wastewater treatment plant that is not listed; (2) as irrigation to managed vegetation; (3) to a lagoon or other liquid storage structure; (4) as road dust abatement; (5) to a subsurface infiltration system; or (6) to an infiltration basin. Continue Reading

Agency Extends Relief to Prevent Unintended Tax Burden on Custom-Crush Facilities and Bonded Wine Cellars

As we wrote about earlier this month, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) passed late last year included significant, temporary federal excise tax relief for wine, beer and spirits businesses for 2018 and 2019.  Unfortunately, in an apparent oversight of legislative drafting, the wine excise tax relief (provided in the form of a tax credit) was drafted in such a way that custom-crush facilities and bonded wine cellars were not eligible to receive the credit.

The Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau earlier this year implemented an alternate procedure to allow affected wineries to make on-paper transfers of wine that effectively corrected the oversight and allowed such wineries to claim the credit.  The alternate procedure was set to expire on June 30th, but the Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau recently extended that expiration date to the end of 2019, to cover the remainder of the temporary excise tax reduction period.  Wine Spectator has been following this issue closely — see here and here.  As efforts continue to make the two-year tax reductions permanent, wineries should watch to see how Congress addresses the availability of the credit.

If you have questions about tax law changes impacting the beverage industry, please contact one of the attorneys listed below:

Dustin Swanson at 503.294.9262 or dustin.swanson@stoel.com

Todd Friedman at 503.294.9327 or todd.friedman@stoel.com

A Prop. 65 Win for Winemakers: No Separate Warning Required for Inorganic Arsenic

The California Court of Appeal recently handed a victory to winemakers, ruling that a specific Proposition 65 (“Prop. 65”) warning is not required regarding the presence of inorganic arsenic. The lawsuit, Charles et al. v. Sutter Home Winery et al., was originally filed in 2015 and alleged that wines made by over 15 named defendants exposed consumers to inorganic arsenic without the correct Prop. 65 warning.

Inorganic arsenic is a chemical identified by the State of California as a carcinogen and reproductive toxicant, and plaintiffs argued that defendants’ products required a specific warning to inform consumers about exposure to inorganic arsenic. Defendants prevailed on demurrer because the trial court found that the existing “safe harbor” warnings for alcoholic beverages complied with California’s Prop. 65 warning requirement as a matter of law, and that no additional warning for inorganic arsenic was required. In other words, the trial court determined that Prop. 65 does not require both a general warning and specific warning for an alcoholic beverage product. Plaintiffs subsequently appealed. Continue Reading

No Peace for Piece-Rate Pay in Washington Agriculture

This post was written by Adam Belzberg, Ryan Jones and Tim O’Connell for the Stoel Rives World of Employment blog.

In yet another blow to agricultural employers, grab your stopwatches. In Carranza v. Dovex Fruit Co., the Washington Supreme Court has just held that agricultural employers are required to compensate piece-rate workers on a separate hourly basis for time spent performing tasks outside the specific scope of the piece-rate work.

In a narrow 5-4 majority, the Court concluded that the time spent performing tasks outside of piece-rate picking work must be compensated on an hourly basis. The Court then went on to further hold that tasks outside the scope of “piece-rate picking work must be paid at the minimum wage or a contractually agreed rate, whichever is higher.

The Court rested its opinion on an interpretation of the state Minimum Wage Act (“MWA”) that requires employee compensation “‘at a rate of not less than [the applicable minimum wage] per hour.’” In doing so, the Court rejected the long-standing application of the MWA that allowed flexible compensation systems so long as employees were paid above the minimum wage for all hours worked in a week. The Court concluded that the regulations that expressly permitted what it referred to as “workweek averaging” were not applicable to agricultural workers. Thus, the Court was explicit that its holding in Carranza was limited to agricultural employment.

Agricultural employers can take some small solace from the fact that the Carranza decision was made by a narrow majority, and generated unusually sharp language between the majority and the two dissenting opinions; that is rare for the usually ideologically homogenous Washington Supreme Court, and portends that future developments may be better for agricultural employers. For now, though, the bottom line for Washington farmers is that “agricultural workers may be paid on a piece-rate basis only for the hours in which they are engaged in piece-rate picking work. Time spent performing activities outside the scope of piece-rate picking work must be compensated on a separate hourly basis.”

In addition to upending traditional compensation systems that were popular with both farmers and their employees, the Carranza decision leaves many important questions unanswered. Critically, the Court refused to address which tasks fall outside the scope of piece-rate work , and which tasks must be compensated on an hourly basis. The Court indicated this was a factual question, but the contentions of the parties illustrate the fine lines that must be drawn. For example, the Carranza plaintiffs acknowledged that moving a ladder between trees in the field was within the scope of piece-rate work, but moving a ladder from the truck to the field was not.

On a going forward basis, the Court acknowledged that farmers and their employees can enter into agreements setting the hourly rate applicable to the non-piece rate time, so long as that time is greater than the minimum wage. The Court offered no guidance, however, for how its decision in Carranza would be applied on a retroactive basis.

Carranza may lead to sweeping changes for how agriculture uses a piece-rate payment system, much to the dismay of employers. While we await a ruling from the trial court on what tasks are and are not piece-rate work, every farmer or other agricultural employer would be well-advised to reach out to counsel and update their compensation systems to keep ahead of the impacts of this decision.

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Includes Tax Relief for Wine, Beer and Spirits Businesses

Included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) passed in late December were “Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform” provisions that, among other things, reduced federal excise taxes for wine, beer and spirits businesses. These reductions expire at the end of 2019 unless extended by future legislation. While these changes may not have initially received a great deal of coverage in the press, affected businesses experienced almost immediate tax relief and are now putting their savings to use. The New York Times recently reported on this topic – the article can be found here. Businesses should stay tuned for efforts to extend or modify these tax relief provisions.

If you have questions about tax law changes impacting the beverage industry, please contact one of the attorneys listed below:

Dustin Swanson at 503.294.9262 or dustin.swanson@stoel.com

Todd Friedman at 503.294.9327 or todd.friedman@stoel.com

Ninth Circuit Rejects Retail Digital Network’s Challenge to the Constitutionality of California Tied House Law

This post was co-authored by Stoel Rives summer associate Chad Punch.

Earlier this summer, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals revisited an issue that it had examined thirty years prior: whether a California Prohibition-era tied house law is unconstitutional under the First Amendment because it impermissibly restricts commercial speech. Specifically, in Retail Digital Network, LLC v. Prieto (No. 13-56069), the plaintiff, Retail Digital Network, LLC (“RDN”) sued Ramona Prieto (“Prieto”) in her official capacity as Acting Director of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (“CABC”) seeking a declaration that California Business and Professions Code § 25503(f)–(h), which prohibits alcohol manufacturers and wholesalers from providing anything of value to retailers in exchange for advertising their alcohol products, violates the First Amendment of the Constitution. Hearkening back to its earlier decision in Actmedia, Inc. v. Stroh (830 F.2d 957 (9th Cir. 1986)), the court here ultimately disagreed with RDN’s arguments and left California’s longstanding tied house laws intact. Continue Reading

2017 Changes to Washington Liquor Laws Affecting Producers and Distributors

This post was guest authored by Stoel Rives summer associate Alex Pearson.

With the Washington State Legislature’s third special session at a close, now is a good time for alcoholic beverage producers and distributors to take a moment to look at five bills that passed the Legislature and were signed into law by Governor Inslee this past session. All are effective as of July 23, 2017, and create new opportunities for producers and distributors. What follows is a summary of the more notable additions and modifications made by these new laws. Please note that these laws affect a variety of licensees, so we encourage all producers and distributors to evaluate these changes with their attorney.

Legal Definition of Mead

One of the world’s oldest alcoholic beverages—mead—finally has a legal definition in Washington. S.H.B. 1176 amends RCW 66.24.215 and RCW 66.28.360 to define mead as a wine or malt beverage sold as “mead” and which is fermented primarily from honey, but may contain other agricultural products such as fruit, hops, or spices. Those licensed to sell beer or cider in growlers will also be allowed to similarly sell mead to customers, so long as the mead sold has an alcohol content equal to or less than 14 percent alcohol by volume. Additionally, starting January 1, 2018, mead will be exempt from the assessment on wine production that funds the Washington Wine Commission. Continue Reading

2017 Changes to Oregon Liquor Laws

This post was guest authored by Stoel Rives summer associate Antonija Krizanac.

Since the 2017 Oregon Legislative Session convened on February 1, 2017, the Legislature has introduced a variety of bills that impact the Oregon alcohol and beverage industry. Out of the countless proposed bills, five have already been signed by the Governor and will go into effect this year or early 2018 and may impact your business. Following is a summary of those bills.

House Bill 2150: Relating to electronic administration of alcoholic beverage tax provisions

House Bill 2150 requires the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (“OLCC”) to allow manufacturers or distributors of wine, cider, or malt beverages to file by electronic means:

  • A statement of the quantity of wine, cider, or malt beverages produced, purchased, or received, and
  • Payment of privilege taxes on such activities.

This alters the current filing and payment system, which is done on paper. The measure will apply to statements or privilege taxes due on or after July 1, 2019.

Effective date: January 1, 2018
Link to enrolled bill: https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2017R1/Downloads/MeasureDocument/HB2150 Continue Reading

2017 Changes to Washington Liquor Laws Affecting Retailers

This post was guest authored by Stoel Rives summer associate Emma Vignali.

On July 23, 2017, numerous Bills will go into effect that will meaningfully impact alcohol and beverage retailers across Washington. Governor Jay Inslee will sign four bills that will create opportunities for alcohol retailers and simplify the licensing process for current and future licensees. Additionally, although not yet passed by the legislature, S.B. 5164 would expand the criteria under RCW 66.24.363 to authorize the issuance of a beer and wine tasting endorsement to small retailers of meat, seafood, poultry, and cheese. The following is a summary of some of the notable changes adopted in these bills. Note that many of the changes affect licenses, so we encourage anyone who sells alcohol in Washington to discuss these changes with their attorney.

Special Permit for Wine Auctions

H.B. 1718 amends RCW 66.20.010 to improve the process for non-profits hoping to hold wine auctions at their charitable events. While the previous process for holding wine auctions proved strenuous for many non-profits, this Bill simplifies the process by creating a special permit specifically for private wine auctions. The special permit allows non-profits to auction wine for off-premises consumption and to provide auction guests with tasting samples of the wine to be auctioned at the event. More than one winery may participate in the auction, but each must be listed on the application for the special permit. A $25.00 fee will be charged for each winery listed on the permit. Non-profit organizations considering holding a private auction should be sure to apply for a permit prior to the event. Continue Reading

Proposed Parking Changes Will Increase Portland Hotels’ Flexibility to Utilize Parking Assets

For years, the City of Portland has had an expansive, complex and restrictive regulatory system for parking in the Central City. However, in an effort to promote better utilization of Central City parking spaces, the City is currently considering substantial simplification of its Central City parking code, which hotels may benefit from.

Historically, hotels selling onsite parking spaces to non-guests were potentially vulnerable to zoning code enforcement actions prohibiting rental of those spaces to persons not patronizing the hotel. Because a hotel might not be able to prove that the rental of parking spaces to non-guests was a legal, nonconforming use, predating the City’s extensive parking regulation system, a hotel might be ordered to cease renting spaces to downtown drivers without “business” at the hotel site. Things may, however, become easier.

The proposed parking regulation changes are part of the City’s Central City 2035 planning process. The published draft being discussed by the City’s Planning and Sustainability Commission removes Residential/Hotel as a parking type and instead includes Residential/Hotel parking in the Growth Parking designation. Whereas the existing code requires that Residential/Hotel parking be accessory to the residential or hotel use, serving users of the residence or hotel, Growth Parking is proposed to be available for both accessory and commercial parking at all times so a hotel could, for example, rent its parking spaces to people attending an offsite show or employees of a neighboring business and not risk running afoul of the zoning code. Continue Reading

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