AUGUSTA, Maine — The state’s Liquor and Lottery Commission will consider ending the sale of 50-milliliter liquor bottles in Maine following a promise by Gov. Paul LePage to do so if the Legislature enacted a bill that adds the containers to Maine’s bottle redemption program.
Last week, the Legislature, which had been debating the proposal for several weeks, overrode LePage’s veto of the bill with a 29-6 vote in the Senate and 114-31 vote in the House.
The bill, LD 56, sponsored by Rep. Anne-Marie Mastraccio, D-Sanford, adds wine or spirits containers of 50 milliliters and smaller to the state’s bottle redemption program as of January 2019. The bill originally garnered 32-3 support in the Senate and a 111-34 vote in the House.
Proponents argued the bill would help reduce littering and promote recycling. However, that debate shifted to drunken driving, which LePage and others have argued is made easier by the sale of liquor in nip bottles.
Delisting nips would cost the state and nip producers money. Maine sold 8.4 million nips in the 2016 fiscal year — a number that has grown by 40 percent in each of the past five years, according to testimony from state liquor regulators, who projected sales above $12 million in the next year.
Maine made $3 million from nips in the 2016 fiscal year, according to figures provided to the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. If Maine sells $14 million worth of nips in 2018, it would equal $6 million in profit.
Sen. Nathan Libby, D-Lewiston, has a spirits bottler in his district that would be affected by a nips ban. He called the proposed action “misguided in the extreme.”
“There are more than 100 jobs in Lewiston tied to the sale of so-called ‘nips’ and I will oppose, to the greatest extent of my ability, any move by the government that could put my constituents out of work,” said Libby in a written statement. “No man or woman in Lewiston should lose their livelihood in service of Gov. LePage’s petty vendetta against the Legislature.”
Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, who chairs the legislative committee that debated and amended the nips bill, said Tuesday that if LePage was concerned about drunken driving, there could have been a legislative solution.
“If the governor’s office had come into my committee and said this is about drinking and driving, we think we could have found a way to refer it to the committee of jurisdiction,” said Saviello. “This came in as a bottle deposit bill supported by both Republicans and Democrats.”
According to an agenda published by the State Liquor and Lottery Commission, written testimony will be accepted during the next couple of weeks. The commission is scheduled to consider the matter beginning at 10 a.m. on July 11 at the Augusta State Armory at 179 Western Ave., Augusta.
LePage’s office did not respond to questions Monday and Tuesday regarding delisting nips.