Bevy of Booze Bills on the Docket in Massachusetts

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Even before members of an alcohol review task force meet for the first time to begin examining decades-old Massachusetts liquor laws, Treasury Department officials have already counted at least 55 proposed pieces of legislation that could affect how in-state brewers, distributors and retailers operate.

Many of the proposed bills — which are still in the process of being reviewed and uploaded for public viewing on malegislature.gov — seek to alter sections of Chapter 138 of Massachusetts’ General Laws, Steve Moore, the Deputy Legislative Director at the state treasury told Brewbound.

Some of the more noteworthy proposals include:

  • A senate bill (SD.138) that would raise excise taxes on brewers from $3.30 per barrel to $9.90 per barrel;
  • A senate bill (SD.680) that would expand the definition of hard cider to include products with alcohol percentages as high as 8.5 percent, an amount now recognized by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB);
  • A house bill (HD.1350) aimed at limiting inducements via category management practices would prohibit alcohol beverage licensees from “furnishing a retailer with human resources to perform merchandising or other functions, with the expectation of stocking, rotation or pricing services of the industry member’s own product;”
  • A senate bill (SD.1687) aimed at “restoring contract rights to craft brewers,” would allow all malt beverage manufacturers to terminate contracts for no cause;
  • A senate bill (SD.150) that would add new definitions to Chapter 138 and amend regulations pertaining to pricing and discounts.

As of press time, an additional search for “alcoholic beverages” on the website of The General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts yielded 23 senate dockets filed prior to a January 20 deadline. A second search for “alcohol” produced 37 different senate dockets.

In a conversation with Brewbound, Representative Jeffrey Roy (D- Norfolk), who presented House Docket 1350 — An Act relative to inducements in the purchase and sale of alcoholic beverages — said he believed legislators were eager to propose alcohol-related bills in an effort to “start a conversation” with members of the task force who will be examining every facet of the state’s alcohol laws.

“I think there is a heightened interest in this topic,” he said. “That is why you are seeing a great deal of bills devoted to alcohol. One of the easiest ways to get your topic on the agenda is to file a bill.”

News of the other filings comes just days after it was revealed that the Beer Distributors of Massachusetts had supported a bill that would enable beer companies making less than 30,000 barrels annually to terminate relationships with wholesalers for no cause.

Sponsored by Rep. John J. Mahoney (D-Worcester), the “Act to Promote Economic Development and Market Access for Emerging Businesses” would amend chapter 138 section 25E of the Massachusetts General Laws to read:

“Notwithstanding the provisions of section 25E of this chapter, an Emerging Brewery may, without good cause shown, terminate the right to distribute any brands of malt beverages for any licensed wholesaler to whom such Emerging Brewery has made regular sales of such brands of malt beverages, subject to the provisions of this section.”

More than 100 representatives of Massachusetts breweries attended the state brewers guild’s annual meeting yesterday at Lord Hobo Brewing Company to discuss the distributors’ proposal as well as other legislative items.

“It was a lot of circumspect conversation,” one brewery owner attending the meeting told Brewbound.

The Guild is expected to support at least two proposed bills:

  • HD.1319, An Act relative to craft brewers, proposed by Rep. Alice Peisch;
  • SD.1687, An Act restoring contract rights to craft brewers, proposed by Rep. Barbara L’Italien.

Also attending the meeting was Massachusetts Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who shared updates about the 7-member alcohol task force that will review the industry and its regulatory structure.

The final two members of the task force were named last Friday. Goldberg appointed E. Macey Russell, a partner at Choate Hall & Stewart LLP, as the committee’s chair. Governor Charlie Baker appointed Robert Cerasoli, an adjunct professor at Quincy College.

The task force is expected to meet for the first time within the next two weeks, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission told Brewbound.

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