Legislative Update: Brewers of PA Hires Ex-Liquor Control Chair; Nebraska Pushes for Highest Excise Tax in Nation

Brewers of PA Hire Adam Harris as Deputy Director

The Brewers of Pennsylvania, a state lobbying group, has tapped a 16-year veteran of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as its new deputy director.

Last week, the organization named Adam Harris, the former chairman of the House Liquor Control Committee, as its new deputy director.

“Adam brings credibility, experience, insight, and craft beer passion to the BOP table,” BOP executive director LaBert said in a release.

Harris’ hire also signals the Brewers of PA’s latest move in an effort to change the state’s franchise laws, which lock beer companies into virtually unbreakable unions with wholesalers. In a press release, the organization said Harris would help “bolster the BOP’s advocacy efforts and its quest for a more fair playing field within Pennsylvania’s antiquated three-tier system.”

Connecticut Taproom Legislation Shelved

A pair of lawmakers who proposed two bills that would have forced craft breweries to choose between operating their taprooms or selling beer at on- and off-premise retail locations have been pulled, according to the Hartford Courant.

State Rep. Brandon McGee (D-Hartford) and Sen. Doug McCrory (D-Hartford) withdrew their legislation after backlash from the state’s craft breweries, who claimed they would have been forced to layoff workers and close satellite locations. Campaign finance reports for both lawmakers revealed several contributions from wholesalers, according to the Courant.

Meanwhile, the Connecticut Brewers Guild plans to lobby lawmakers to loosen or eliminate the 9-liter-a-day limit (or one case of 12 oz. cans) on to-go sales, according to Connecticut Magazine. Such a proposal has the support of Gov. Ned Lamont, who campaigned to “lift the arbitrary 9-liter limit on retail sales.”

Nebraska Brewers Fight Excise Tax Increase

Nebraska’s craft beer makers are opposing a pair of bills that would make the state’s excise tax on beer the highest in the nation, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

As written, two separate bills — Legislative Bill 314 and Legislative Bill 497 — propose increasing the state’s excise tax from 31 center per gallon to $1.38 per gallon in an effort to raise $121 million annually to help lower property taxes. Speaking to the World-Herald, the bills’ sponsors, state Sens. Tom Briese (Albion) and Curt Friesen (Henderson), said the increase could be passed on to consumers. Not surprisingly, craft brewers dispute the notion and say tax hikes could lead to layoffs and closures.

Committee hearings on both bills are scheduled for February 14.

Senate Committee Approves Utah’s Full-Strength Beer Bill

Utah continues to inch toward allowing grocery, convenience and big box stores to sell full-strength beer. Last week, the Senate Business and Labor Committee unanimously approved Sen. Jerry Stevenson’s (R-Layton) bill to allow retailers to sell 4.8 percent alcohol by weight beer (6 percent ABV), instead of 3.2 beer (4 percent ABV), according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The move comes as other states abandon 3.2 percent ABW beer and as large mainstream brewers such as Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, citing financial reasons, have begun producing less of those offerings. As of April 1, Utah and Minnesota will be the final two states to ban full-strength beer sales in grocery, convenience and big box stores.

Maryland Bill Attempts to Strip Comptroller of Alcohol Regulatory Powers

A bill introduced in the Maryland General Assembly would strip Comptroller Peter Franchot’s office of its power to regulate the alcohol industry and create a new agency to oversee the industry, according to the Herald Mail.

Additionally, Sen. Ben Kramer (D-Montgomery) introduced a bill that would bar regulators from accepting political contributions of $100 or more from persons associated with the industries they regulate, the outlet reported.

Franchot, a vocal proponent of the state’s craft beer industry, told reporters last week that the legislation was “motivated by petty retaliation” against him for advocating for craft brewers.

However, lawmakers said the legislation was borne out of a task force that reviewed the operations of the comptroller’s office led by former delegate Bruce Poole.

Poole told the outlet that his recommendations to strip the comptroller’s office of regulatory power was due to the number of enforcers not keeping pace with the growing numbers of outposts serving alcohol. He added that Franchot’s office seemed uninterested in educating the public on the dangers of alcohol.

Colorado Law Fixes Full-Strength Beer Sales

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law on January 31 that retroactively removed a dual licensing requirement from the state’s full-strength beer sales law, which went into effect on January 1.

“The bill eliminates the need for brewers to hold separate fermented malt beverage licenses for brewing and selling beer at grocery and convenience stores,” Andres Gil Zaldana, executive director of the Colorado Brewers Guild, said in a press release. “With the bill’s passage, all of our state’s brewers can sell beer at the retailer of their choosing.”

Had Polis not signed the bills, brewers would have been forced to separate batches of beer earmarked for grocery and convenience stores from those going to liquor stores. Additionally, wholesalers would also have had to store the beer intended for different retailers in separate areas of their warehouses and deliver them separately.

Texas To-Go Sales Bill Referred to Committee

The Austin Chronicle recently posted on the history behind Texas manufacturing breweries’ fight for to-go beer sales as a pair of companion bills attempt to change the law.

Texas beer producers that hold manufacturing licenses are only allowed to sell up to 5,000 barrels of beer for on-premise consumption but are not allowed to sell their offerings for off-premise consumption. However, the state’s brewpubs, wineries and distilleries with similar manufacturing permits are allowed to sell their products to-go.

One of the bill’s attempting to give to-go sales privileges to manufacturing breweries — state Sen. Dawn Buckingham’s (R-Lakeway) Senate Bill 312 — was referred to the Business & Commerce Committee last week.

Bill to Extend Brewery Hours Tabled in Montana

A bill to extend the hours of operation of Montana’s craft breweries has been tabled.

Lawmakers in the state had been considering extending the hours of operation for the state’s craft breweries, allowing them to close at 10 p.m., according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Currently, breweries making between 100 and 60,000 barrels of beer can operate between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. However, House Bill 185, sponsored by Rep. Dave Fern (D-Whitefish), would have pushed closing time to 10 p.m.

The House Business and Labor Committee voted 16-3 to kill the bill last week, the Great Falls Tribune reported. The bill had been opposed by the Montana Tavern Association.

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