Legislative Update: Wisconsin to Study ‘Alcohol Czar’ Proposal; Denizens Owner Running for Maryland Lieutenant Governor

Wisconsin ‘Alcohol Czar’ Vote Canceled

A vote on a Republican measure to create a governor-appointed “alcohol czar” to enforce Wisconsin’s alcohol laws has been postponed by the Senate’s economic development committee, according to the Associated Press.

The fate of the legislation (Senate Bill 801) to create the new Office of Alcohol Beverages Enforcement, proposed by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, is now unclear as the Senate committee called for more study of the bill after objections from several breweries, distilleries, wineries and advocacy groups, including Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, the Wisconsin Brewers Guild and the Wisconsin Winery Association, among others.

A similar bill to create a government agency to police the industry was introduced last year, but ultimately failed to gain traction.

Fitzgerald first introduced the measure last Tuesday, saying the state’s alcohol laws “are not being enforced, period,” the AP reported. Currently, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue is in charge of enforcement. However, Fitzgerald’s expedited plan for the bill hit a wall in committee.

Fitzgerald’s brother, Jeff Fitzgerald, is a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Wine and Spirits Institute, which supported the measure. Additionally, the bill would have offered a carve-out permit to Kohler American Resort to distill brandy and sell it directly to consumers at its resort.

Denizens Owner Added to Maryland Gubernatorial Ticket

Maryland gubernatorial candidate Alec Ross has selected Denizens Brewing Co. founder Julie Verratti as his running mate, according to the Washington Post.

Ross, a tech entrepreneur, and Verratti are both first-time political candidates. However, Verratti, who previously served as a senior policy advisor for the U.S. Small Business Administration, has campaigned for several issues, including marriage equality and human rights.

“I’ve tried to live my life in service,” Verratti told the outlet. “And I believe I have the skills to help Alec move Maryland forward.”

Ross added that his and Verratti’s candidacy “reflects the values of the millennial generation.”

So far, there are eight other Democratic candidates for governor. And more could join the race, as the last day to file is February 27. The primary election is slated for June 26.

In other Maryland news, lawmakers are scheduled to discuss two dueling pieces of brewery legislation on Friday, February 23. One of those proposals, House Bill 1052, would roll back brewery-friendly changes enacted last year. The other bill, state Comptroller Peter Franchot’s Reform on Tap Act, which has the support of many of the state’s brewers, would enact several changes, including the removal of limits on beer production and taproom sales.

Ohio Lawmakers Offer Bill to Boost Beer Industry

A bipartisan group of Ohio lawmakers have drafted House Bill 509, the “Ohio Proud Craft Beer Act,” which would allow the state’s brewers to sell 1 oz. samples of beer and up to 216 oz. of beer for off-site consumption at farmers markets.

In a press release, state Rep. Steve Hambley, who introduced the bill with Rep. Martin J. Sweeney, said, “This legislation not only supports Ohio barley growers, hop and fruit farmers, maltsters and craft brewers, but also consumers who want to know that what they are drinking was grown right here in the Buckeye State.”

The bill, which has 25 cosponsors, would allow beer and cider producers who brew with Ohio-grown ingredients to receive a “Ohio Proud Craft Beer” certification. The legislation is awaiting referral to a committee.

Virginia House and Senate Pass At-Rest Provisions

Lawmakers in the Virginia House and Senate have passed legislation that would add a controversial “at-rest” provision to beer and wine sales.

According to the legislation, beer or wine would be required to delivered to a wholesaler, unloaded from the delivery vehicle and kept at the distribution warehouse for at least four hours prior to being delivered to a retailer.

Similar proposals have drawn criticism in other states from brewers, who argue that come-to-rest provisions add expense for breweries that work with wholesalers several cities away.

Kansas Lawmakers Consider Allowing Contract Brewing

A bill that would legalize contract brewing in the state of Kansas has been referred to the Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs.

The bill, House Bill 2470, passed nearly unanimously through the House on February 7. According to the legislation, a Kansas microbrewery would be allowed to contract brew beer or hard cider for in- and out-of-state companies.

However, both the brewery manufacturing the beer as well as its contract partner will be required to count the beer being produced against the state’s 60,000-barrel cap for companies with a microbrewery licenses. Read the legislation here.

Oklahoma and Colorado Lawmakers Prepare for Full-Strength Beer Sales

In 2016, Oklahoma voters approved the sale of full-strength refrigerated beer in grocery and convenience stores. Now, state lawmakers are hashing out how stronger alcohol will be taxed. The current sales tax is 13.5 percent, but state Rep. Stephanie Bice has offered Senate Bill 1394, which would eliminate the sales tax and replace it with a 6.5 percent tax on alcohol sold to wholesalers, KGOU reported. That bill is receiving opposition from retailers.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, which also approved full-strength beer sales in 2016, state Sen. Chris Holbert is attempting to put limits on sales prior to the law taking effect in January 2019, according to the Denver Business Journal.

Holbert’s proposed legislation would require anyone selling full-strength beer to be at least 21 years old, limit grocery and convenience store sales to no more than 20 percent of overall sales and allow only retail liquor stores to deliver beer to customers, the outlet reported. Another proposed regulation would prevent new grocery and convenience stores that sell beer from opening within 500 feet of schools.

However, those proposals are being met with opposition from liquor stores as well as grocery and convenience stores. Liquor store owners want more protections for their businesses while grocery and convenience store owners said new regulations throw their year-long planning into chaos. Holbert has since said he’d take all of those concerns into consideration.

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