Legislative Roundup: Direct Sales in Georgia Approved; Utah Becomes 1st US State to Lower DUI Threshold

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Georgia Direct Sales Bill Passes General Assembly

Five months ago, Atlanta’s Monday Night Brewing took a risk in announcing plans to build a $2 million, 22,000 sq. ft. satellite brewery centered around sales through an adjoining taproom.

“My stance is that they can’t take my house twice,” Monday Night Brewing co-founder Jonathan Baker told Brewbound at the time. “We’ve already got everything on the line with this first brewery, and we think this is where the future of where Atlanta beers go. We think the laws become a little more brewery friendly in the coming years.”

Now it appears Baker’s bet is going to pay off. A bill allowing Georgia’s craft breweries to sell beer directly to consumers is just a signature away from becoming law.

On Wednesday, the Georgia state Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 85, which allows craft breweries to sell up to 3,000 barrels of beer directly to consumers in their taprooms, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle. The legislation allows consumers to buy up to a case of beer a week from breweries.

The bill now moves to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk and, if signed, would become law on September 1.

The effects of the legislation are already reverberating. Wild Heaven Beer reportedly announced plans to open a second brewery with a 15-barrel brewhouse and taproom in Atlanta’s Beltline area due to the passage, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“Thanks to the leadership and vision of Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, Senator Rick Jeffares, Representative Howard Maxwell and the efforts of our wholesale partners and persistence of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, it makes sense to double down on on our home state,” Wild Heaven president Nick Purdy said in a release.

The Beltline had already received a boost with Monday Night’s construction project and the announcement of ex-Stone brewmaster Mitch Steele’s forthcoming brewery, New Realm Brewing.

Utah Governor Signs Bill Lowering DUI Level to .05

Starting December 30, 2018, Utah will have the nation’s toughest DUI law on the books.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill late last night lowering the state’s DUI threshold from .08 to .05, according to Fox 13 Salt Lake City.

“My responsibility is to evaluate and decide whether in fact going to .05 is in fact good policy,” Herbert said during a news conference. “That’s my charge, is it good policy? And I’m here to announce that after thorough analysis that I believe it is good policy and that this new policy will in fact save lives.”

Herbert reportedly added that he would be calling a special session to address the law’s “unintended consequences,” which may delay it going into law until 2019.

The bill survived vigorous attempts to get it vetoed by the Utah Restaurant Association and the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association.

Herbert denied that the new law would hurt tourism, adding that other parts of the world have adopted .05 Blood Alcohol Content laws.

“If we look at the world, we’re not weird,” he said.

In response to the bill’s passage, Brewers Association director Paul Gatza penned a blog on the organization’s website calling the new law a “black eye” for Utah.

“For business owners in the state who rely on tourism or just residents who like to have a beer with dinner, there will be less economic activity and you will likely go out less often,” Gatza surmised. “Are you going to fly to Utah, rent a car, go skiing and then go have an apres-ski beverage and meal out? Probably not.”

Maryland Inches Closer to Production Cap

Diageo-owned Guinness won a battle in the Maryland Legislature with Baltimore County delegates OKing a piece of legislation to push forward greater quantities of direct-to-consumer sales at the brewery’s soon-to-open Relay facility, the Baltimore Sun reported.

House Bill 1283 would allow all production breweries to increase on-site sales to 2,000 barrels annually — however it would reportedly force breweries to close at 9 p.m. on weeknights and 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The delegates’ bill deviated from a version passed by senators that would only allow Guinness to sell 4,000 barrels of beer annually in its taproom and close nightly at 10 p.m.

The brewers are hoping for changes in the Senate.

Two other bills — including one backed by Diageo and the Brewers Association of Maryland — are also in play that would increase the cap for all in-state breweries.

Currently, Maryland’s production breweries are allowed to sell up to 500 barrels of beer directly to consumers.

Maryland’s General Assembly concludes its session on April 10.

Maine Brewers Seek Law to Allow Transfer of Beer Between Multiple Facilities

Maine’s craft brewers are butting heads with the Maine Beer and Wine Distributors Association, the state’s Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, and Anheuser-Busch over proposed changes to the state’s liquor laws.

The brewers are backing L.D. 579, a bill that would allow the state’s brewers to transfer beer among multiple breweries and tasting rooms, the Press Herald reported. Other changes being sought would allow speciality food stores to hold tastings and samplings and double the amount of beer, wine or liquor that a supplier or distributor could provide for such events.

Members of the state legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee met last week to discuss the bill. Brewers attended the gathering, asking lawmakers to pass L.D. 579 while arguing that changes to Maine’s policy on transferring beer from one facility to another should mirror federal law. The brewers reportedly want to be able to move their beer by tanker truck, keg or can.

“If we weigh it as written, it defers the state’s autonomy to the federal government,” Greg Mineo, Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations director, told the Press Herald.

Rising Tide Brewing Co. co-owner and Maine state Rep. Heather Sanborn told the committee that such transfers are important for the expansion of her brewery as it begins barrel-aging beers — and keeping different types of beer is important to avoid cross contamination, she said. Changes to the law would also enable brewers to avoid additional investments in packaging equipment at multiple facilities, allowing Maine breweries to transport beer to canning or bottling lines wherever they exist in the state.

Bissell Brothers Brewing Co. Peter Bissell told lawmakers that his company is hoping to produce beer in his hometown of Milo in northern Maine. However, he’s not willing to make an investment there if he cannot sell beers made in Milo and Portland at either location.

The bill is working its way through committee for more debate.

Wholesalers Succeed in Stripping Bill to Increase Nevada Production Cap

Nevada’s wholesalers succeeded in amending a bill to raise the state’s production cap, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The original version of Sen. James Settelmeyer’s Senate Bill 130 would have increased the state’s direct-sales production cap from 15,000 barrels annually to 45,000 barrels. However, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee amended the bill to an annual 30,000-barrel cap with up to 10,000 barrels of that total dedicated to direct-sales at the brewery or a brewpub.

The amended bill was a compromise to push the legislation forward to the full Senate, Settelmeyer reportedly said.

Montana Considers Raising Production Cap, Allowing Tasting Rooms at Colleges and Universities Teaching Brewing Sciences

Montana legislators are considering changes to a state law that caps production for breweries also selling directly to consumers at on-site taprooms. Currently, those companies are only allowed to make 10,000-barrels of beer annually. As proposed, House Bill 541 would bump the cap to 60,000 barrels annually, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.

Due to the current restrictions, Big Sky Brewing, which produces 43,000 barrels annually, has given away more than $4.2 million worth of beer in its taproom over the last decade.

Additionally, Montana lawmakers are considering a proposal to allow the state’s colleges and universities that teach brewing sciences to open public tasting rooms, the outlet reported.

House Bill 462 would permit schools teaching brewing to operate on-campus tasting rooms for 20 hours weekly and sell consumers up to 12 oz. of beer.

Colleges and universities are not currently allowed to apply for liquor licenses.

The Senate’s Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee has yet to vote on either measure, although both have received bipartisan support and passed through the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, the committee is also considering Senate Bill 356, which would reportedly permit restaurants with beer and wine licenses to brew and for license holders to distill and sell liquor.

Mississippi Governor Signs Bill Allowing Smaller Municipalities to Vote on Legalizing Beer Sales

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a bill into law last last week allowing dry towns with populations of at least 1,500 to vote on legalizing beer sales if they’re within three miles of a “wet” city or county, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported.

The previous threshold was 2,500 people before a vote could be made.

The new law only affects six Mississippi towns: Ackerman, Coldwater, Decatur, Farmington, Nettleton and Purvis.

Beer votes reportedly can only be held once every five years. A petition with at least 20 percent of the registered voters in that municipality is needed for a local option vote to be held.

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