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Florida Beer Politics 101: HB 1329 Up For Committee, Another 64 Ounce Growler Bill, and More

It's been a busy month in Tallahassee, and we've got some updates to the ongoing sausage making political debates happening that will have an effect on the Florida beer industry.

With the release of Brewers Association data regarding the state of the craft brewing industry, the interest group who serves the middle tier of the three tier system (wholesalers), made some welcoming remarks on the figures.

The National Beer Wholesalers Association President & CEO Craig Purser shared, "Craft beer continues to provide a significant contribution to the American beer industry and the overall American economy. NBWA is proud of the role that independent beer distributors play to help the craft beer industry thrive."

Yet NBWA supporters in Florida are continuing to contradict the overall message being delivered by their national counterparts. An Anheuser-Busch distributor in Pensacola is helping to guide the Florida Senate President in the direction of more regulations on craft breweries.

See also: Florida State Representative Introduces Bill That Would Destroy Small Breweries

As the growler debate springs up again (that pesky restriction on industry standard 64 ounce growlers), some of the big microbrew distributors are pulling out their checkbooks and calling in personal favors... with Senator Don Gaetz admitting to the Associated Press that he's just going to follow what his buddy Lewis Bear (of Lewis Bear Distributing in the Florida panhandle) tells him to do.

"I'm with the beer distributors in my district," Gaetz said recently. "That's a very important issue because one of my very best friends [Lewis Bear, Jr.] is an Anheuser-Busch distributor and he never talks to me about his business. It's always about what are we going to do for disabled children, what are we going to do for the arts, what are we going to do for economic development. But this time he's talking about growlers."

The bill that was to be filed would have been similar to a House bill already in committee: HB 1392. It would have mirrored some of the same clauses and extra regulations, namely allowing for 64 ounce growlers, but outlawing gallon growlers, restricting taproom sales, and rendering collaboration beers almost impossible to sell.

"It's extremely insulting and it's extraordinarily punitive," said Josh Aubuchon, a lobbyist who represents the Florida Brewers Guild. "It's so anti-free market, anti-consumer ... For no reason, in order for the craft breweries to get something positive, they have to give up something. It's ludicrous."

Gaetz is just as baffled as to why half-gallon growlers are illegal. "I don't know," he said.

As for more regulations in the craft brewing sector, more bills continue to be filed to expand the regulatory powers of the state.

Remember our good friend HB 1329? Just this past Thursday, it was "added to [the] Business & Professional Regulation Subcommittee agenda" which is next scheduled to meet on March 24th at 3:00 PM. Representatives involved in that meeting are Debbie Mayfield [R], W. Gregory "Greg" Steube [R], Darryl Ervin Rouson [D], Ben Albritton [R], Karen Castor Dentel [D], W. Travis Cummings [R], Dwight Dudley [D], Dane Eagle [R], Joseph A. "Joe" Gibbons [D], Mike La Rosa [R], Kenneth L. "Ken" Roberson [R], Cynthia A. Stafford [D], and Carlos Trujillo [R].

What else is happening? Take HB 7075 filed in late February, for example. It adds in strange and arbitrary restrictions such as "No more than 30 percent of the malt beverages sold to consumers at the taproom, per calendar year, may be brewed by the manufacturer at other manufacturing premises and shipped to the licensed manufacturing premises pursuant to s. 563.022(14)(d) or brewed in collaboration with other manufacturers." Have a popular collaboration beer with other local or out of state breweries? Better make sure it doesn't become too popular, or sell more of your self-produced beer.

Also included in HB 7075 are restrictions that would cause a headache for any chain brewpub. "The brewpub may not ship malt beverages to or between licensed brewpub premises owned by the licensed entity."

Other bills being introduced are more friendly to craft beer, and spell out some of the issues in a straightforward manner.

HB 283 spells out the legality of 64 ounce growlers, and nothing more. CS/HB 387 gives leeway to retailers like grocery stores and convenience stores to operate tastings, potentially boosting sales in a market of constantly shifting products. There are even similar state Senate bills, like CS/SB 406 (a bulked up growler size and restrictions bill with beer tasting language added), and SB 470 (authorizing beer tasting at licensed establishments).

In other words, it's prime time if you're interested in using your hobby to become active in politics. The closer to home the laws are made, the more they are likely to have an effect on you (at least that's what my high school civics teacher told me all those years ago).

Read up, and make your voice heard, whether you're for these bills or against them.

Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.

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Doug Fairall
Contact: Doug Fairall