We Shall Not Flag or Fail…
There was a victory yesterday in the fight against the Big Beer lobbyists and their bought-and-paid-for legislators. House Bill 1329 was essentially gutted by a procedure called a “Strike-All” amendment. The idea being that most or all of the language in the bill is removed, and different language is added. Almost all of the ridiculous restrictions and punitive aspects were removed, leaving a shell of a bill that allows for pretty much any size growler up to 1 gallon (128 ounces). There is still some concern over aspects remaining in regards to retail sales, brewpubs, etc. But it is certainly way better than it was, and the unanimous vote was applauded by the Florid Brewers Guild, and most in the craft beer community.
I watched a replay of the proceedings (look for 3/24), and while I am happy with the outcome, I am very bothered by the demeanor of some of the members of the committee. To begin with, I felt that their treatment of Jennifer Gratz from Fort Myers Brewing, who made the 8 hour drive up to speak at their meeting, was reprehensible. Committee chair Rep. Debbie Mayfield (R-Vero Beach, Dist. 54) was abrasive and condescending. I thought that Gratz made some very important points, and was professional and courteous when raising her concerns about Rep. Ray Rodrigues lack of response to her attempts to contact him (he was the sponsor of the bill). Immediately, Mayfield and her Republican cohorts converged on Gratz (a bona fide conservative Republican in her own right) and told her to stop attacking Rodrigues. They then went on to laud the Fort Meyers Republican as a “hero” and fell over themselves thanking him for his efforts in this bill.
Let me get this straight… a man sponsors a bill that is so odious, you have to use the “strike-all” amendment to disinfect it to make it palatable, and then you commend him for bowing to the outrage and abandoning his efforts? They actually had the nerve to say “if Representative Rodrigues did not think this was a good bill, he would not have brought it to the committee…” So which is it, folks?
I also question a system that allows a “strike-all” as a procedure. If a bill is so bad you need to delete it all and re-write it, why not just vote it down and submit a new bill? The way I understand it (and I am more than happy to have someone explain if I am wrong) is that the new “clean” bill still goes forward with Rodrigues’ name on it at “his” bill, even though it is nearly 180 degrees from his original intent.
But, even with all that, the committee voted unanimously in favor of the “strike-all”. And it moves forward to the next stop.
But the fight continues in the Senate.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, March 26th, starting at 1:30, the Regulated Industries committee in the Florida Senate will bring up SPB 7120, a slightly more unacceptable bill (read CraftBeer.com and the Florida Brewer’s Guild analysis here) than what the House looked at. The basics are the same, though. Unnecessary regulations, punitive measures aimed at craft brewers in the state, and job-killing aspects regarding tasting rooms and growlers. It cannot be allowed to move any further. I do not know if the Senate has the same kind of “strike-all” tactic, but I would rather just see this bill die and return to the hell from which it was spawned. It would be a blow to the powerful lobbyists supporting it if we could just stop it in its tracks. But it won’t be easy. On this committee are a few that have worked against Florida craft brewers in the past. Here are the Senators on the committee (thanks to Hoggetowne Ale Works for the breakdown and info):
Senate President: Don Gaetz – email@example.com (850) 487-5001 *Note* You all remember him, right? The guy who is buddy-buddy with the AB/InBev distributor in the panhandle and will vote however they tell him to?
Chair: Senator Kelli Stargel (R) – firstname.lastname@example.org (850) 487-5015
Vice Chair: Senator Oscar Braynon, II (D) – email@example.com (850) 487-5036
Senator Nancy C. Detert (R) – firstname.lastname@example.org (850) 487-5028
Senator Anitere Flores (R) – email@example.com (850) 487-5037
Senator Bill Galvano (R) -firstname.lastname@example.org (850) 487-5026
Senator Audrey Gibson (D) email@example.com (850) 487-5009
Senator John Legg (R) – firstname.lastname@example.org (850) 487-5017
Senator Maria Lorts Sachs (D) – email@example.com (850) 487-5034 *Note* Sen. Sachs filed an amendment to kill last year’s growler bill and received a couple thousand dollars from the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association in 2012. Anheuser-Busch donated $500 directly to Sachs. Gold Coast Beverage and Southern Wine & Spirits combined to donate another $1,500. (ref. http://komlossylaw.com/beersenate/)
Senator Eleanor Sobel (D) – firstname.lastname@example.org (850) 487-5033
Senator John Thrasher (R) – email@example.com (850) 487-5006 *Note* received a combined $1,000 from Anheuser-Busch and the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association and $500 each from Pepin and Gold Coast. (ref. http://komlossylaw.com/beersenate/)
There is also a petition being circulated to stop this abomination of a bill here.
There is momentum building on the side of craft breweries in Florida, and we need to keep the pressure on. I strongly encourage everyone, Florida resident or not, to contact these legislators and tell them how you feel about this bill… tactfully and respectfully. Obviously it is important for Florida voters to speak up, but with tourism such and integral part of our economy here, voices from outside the state do carry weight. We are becoming a craft beer destination and plainly put this would hurt that industry. And the committee members need to know that.
One of the big problems here is an uneducated Senate. By that I mean specifically about the craft beer industry in Florida and the economic impact it has, and also how it has thrived in other states. Allowing 64 ounce growlers has not brought ruin to 47 other states that allow them, not has it brought down the “sacred cow” three-tier system that everyone seems so protective of. I think that by presenting the facts plainly and simply, most will see reason and kill this bill… unless they are being paid to do otherwise.
Keep fighting, friends.