Legislative Update: Maryland Brewers Association Teams Up with Diageo; Minnesota Lawmakers Pass Sunday Sales Bill

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Diageo, Maryland Brewers Association Join Forces

After butting heads, Guinness owner Diageo and the Maryland Brewers Association are teaming up on proposed legislation that would allow production breweries to sell more beer from their taprooms, the Baltimore Sun reported Tuesday.

The two groups had been at odds over a piece of local legislation that would have allowed Diageo’s proposed Guinness taproom in Relay, MD, to serve more beer annually than every other brewery taproom in the state.

Why the change of heart?

“It has been made clear that whatever the legislature plans to do for Diageo, they will also do for the larger industry,” Kevin Atticks, executive director of the brewers association, told the Sun. “There’s movement to change the law and it would be unwise to do it for any one brewery, current or speculative.”

The new bill would reportedly allow Maryland beermakers to sell 5,000 barrels through their taprooms and require breweries to close at 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight Friday and Saturday. In order to receive a public hearing, the bill must make it out of the Senate Rules Committee.

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The previous bills — House Bill 1391, which would allow Guinness to serve up to 5,000 barrels of beer annually in its Baltimore County taproom, and House Bill 1420, which would cap the amount of barrels sold at 4,000 annually for all of the state’s breweries — are still active, however.

The Baltimore County House delegation is reportedly slated to vote on the Guinness-specific bill Friday.

“Everyone loves the jobs, everyone loves the tourism, everyone loves the manufacturing, everyone loves the brand,” Dwayne Kratt, Diageo’s senior director of state government affairs, told the Sun. “You can’t love this project without getting a meaningful increase in the sales cap.”

Maryland’s General Assembly adjourns on April 10.

Minnesota Governor Signs Sunday Liquor Sales into Law

Minnesotans will no longer have to cross the border on Sundays to purchase liquor. On Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law a bill ending the 159-year ban on Sunday sales for liquor stores, according to the Pioneer Press.

“This new law reflects the desires of most people in Minnesota, who have made it clear to their legislators that they want to have this additional option,” Dayton said in a statement.

The new law, which allows liquor stores to operate from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays, goes into effect July 2.

Mississippi Direct Taproom Sales Governor’s Signature Away From Law

Mississippi’s direct sales bill is just one signature away from becoming law.

On Tuesday, the Mississippi House of Representatives signed off on changes made by the Senate to House Bill 1322, sending the bill onto Gov. Phil Bryant, according to the Clarion-Ledger.

The bill, which reportedly passed 89-21, will permit breweries producing less than 60,000 barrels of beer annually to sell up to two cases of beer for off-premise consumption, per day, to consumers. Breweries are also capped at selling no more than 10 percent of the beer they produce each year, or 1,500 barrels of beer annually, whichever amount is lesser, the outlet reported.

Montana Bill Attempts to Raise Production Cap to 60,000 Barrels

A bill that would raise Montana’s 10,000 barrel production cap to 60,000 barrels is winding its way through the Legislature, according to the Missoula Independent.

House Bill 541, which would increase the cap without halting on-site sales, is reportedly slated to be heard by the Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs committee on March 16.

Similar pieces of legislation have died in committee in the past, but this year’s version of the bill reportedly survived committee and passed on the House floor on February 27.

The bill is being opposed by tavern owners and distributors who believe raising the cap puts them at a competitive disadvantage. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Adam Hertz (R-Missoula), argues just the opposite.

For example, Big Sky Brewing produces 43,000 barrels annually, and the brewery has given away more than $4.2 million worth of beer in its taproom over the last decade due to the cap, the Flathead Beacon reported.

“The production cap has served as a disincentive to growth,” Matt Leow, executive director of the Montana Brewers Association, told the Beacon. “This bill to raise that cap is good for Montana brewers, it’s good for Montana agriculture and it’s good for Montana tourism.”

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North Carolina Brewers Attempt to Raise Cap, Run into Wholesaler Opposition

North Carolina’s craft brewers are once again attempting to change a law requiring suppliers to sign with a distributor once they reach 25,000 barrels of production, the Charlotte Observer reported.

NoDa Brewery and Olde Mecklenburg are leading the charge on behalf of the state’s craft brewers and now, Democracy North Carolina — a nonpartisan political watchdog — has examined what those companies up against. Unsurprisingly, it’s politicians backed by money from wholesalers and their family members.

Democracy North Carolina recently found that North Carolina wholesalers donated a staggering $1.5 million to lawmakers between 2013 and 2016.

Among the highlights of the four-year period that Democracy North Carolina studied:

  • Beer wholesalers and their family members donated $941,000 to state-level candidates and parties. The money came from about 40 families.
  •  The North Carolina Beer & Wine Wholesalers PAC donated $523,000 to campaigns.
  • Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) received the most money, $172,000 from wholesalers, and $20,200 from the NC Beer & Wine Wholesalers PAC.
  • House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) received the second most — $80,766 from individuals and $17,700 from the PAC.
  • Gov. Pat McCrory took $97,000 from wholesalers and the PAC.
  • Rep. Jamie Boles (R-Moore), co-chair of the House ABC Committee, was given $21,450 from wholesalers and $11,000 from the PAC.
  • Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), co-chair of the House ABC Committee, received no donations from wholesalers and $1,750 from the NC Beer & Wine Wholesalers PAC.

“Money talks,” McGrady, who is sponsoring a bill to raise the production to 200,000 barrels, told the Observer.

Meanwhile, North Carolina’s craft breweries are finding support from state and national conservative groups such as Americans for Tax Reform and the John Locke Foundation.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, issued a letter to North Carolina lawmakers last week calling the cap a “glaring example of harmful regulation that inflicts economic harm while serving no purpose other than pure protectionism.”

Nevada Production Cap Increase Hits Wall

A bill that would increase production limits for Nevada breweries selling directly to consumers via tasting rooms and brewpubs has hit a snag, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported.

Senate Bill 130 — which would raise the current 15,000 barrel production cap to 45,000 barrels — received a hearing before the Commerce and Labor Committee. However, the committee didn’t take any immediate action on the bill, the outlet reported.

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