SB 1714 and Senator Stargel
Yesterday’s conversation in the Florida Senate was a disgrace, to put it nicely. There have been numerous accounts of what happened there, but the end result was no vote was taken yet. The days and hours leading up to yesterday were fast and furious, with back-room meetings, amendments filed, and no small amount of public outrage. We may not know for sure the details of the attempts at a “good” bill for some time. Depending on who you talk to, there was a deal reached on Sunday between the lobbyists, and then it fell apart. There is certainly some question as to who is at fault there, but what is not in question is that when Monday’s session began, things got ugly. If there is a vote today, it will be very interesting to see what happens.
But I want to back up for a second and address a couple of things I have seen and heard over the past week.
First off, I have been very vocal in my criticism of legislators who are supporting SB1714. I have called them corrupt, uninformed, bought-and-paid-for, and hypocritical. I still stand by those claims. What I have NOT done is called for any kind of violence against them, used profanity in describing them, used offensive slurs, or made personal attacks that were not directly related to their actions in Tallahassee. Apparently some people have. There have been reports of these kinds of attacks on Senator Kelli Stargel, and I want to make it very clear that this kind of behavior is unacceptable, reprehensible, and it hurts our cause. To stoop to that level of thug behavior is irresponsible and wrong, and if you were someone who participated in it, you should be ashamed.
Second, be very careful about what you read and report. With so much information flying about and with the conversation getting so heated, it is easy to grab any sliver of info and run with it before you know the full facts around it. Statements and reports do not exist in a vacuum. There is always context. Just one example was the report that apparently if SB1714 passed, Joey Redner was going to move Cigar City Brewing out of Florida. Well, that is not what he said at all. In fact, he said himself in the Rules Committee hearing that CCB is big enough that even if SB1714 passed, they would “be fine.” His concern was for those coming up behind him in the industry, and that any expansion he did would probably be out of state. So just be careful what you quote and keep the context in mind.
So, with the Senate meeting today, and the likelihood of this bill being put to a vote, I suppose it was inevitable that Senator Stargel, the bill’s sponsor, would try to make her case again to a larger audience. She release an OpEd column last night explaining her position.
You can read it here: Stargel’s Op-Ed
She insults the intelligence of the industry by saying “small but vocal faction of the beer industry that has clouded this issue by promulgating misinformation”.
The misinformation has come from you, Senator. Shall we explore?
You keep regurgitating the same line about “preserving the three-tier system”. What you fail to mention is that it was never threatened. No one has suggested any changes to it but you and your backers. The 21st Amendment clearly and unambiguously leaves the structure, implementation, and enforcement of the three-tier system up to each individual state. It’s not a Federal Mandate!
You try to spread the fear of “unregulated beer widely available in the marketplace.” Show me a single instance where this is happening. To suggest that beer direct from the brewery is somehow unregulated is not only blatantly false, but it is an insult to the professional men and women who work tirelessly to produce their product.
You claim to have “continued to meet with stakeholders across the industry”. That is a lie. You have not worked with anyone within the industry other than the FBWA. Not a single Florida craft brewer has supported you in this, and your claims that you have “not had a response” from the brewers simply means you are not listening to the huge outcry from the entire industry.
Your numbers (2000 kegs) are arbitrary. You said so yourself. Without input from the industry you are trying to regulate, you came up with a number out of thin air, and barely budged when told that those numbers “would not even pay for a packaging line”.
You actually are trying to convince people that what you are proposing is going to HELP craft brewing in Florida, when every single brewer who actually knows the business is telling you otherwise. You are claiming to ensure everyone is in full compliance with the law, when there was never a question about it. To add insult to injury, you actually made the claim that craft brewers want NO regulation on alcohol. There is simply no basis for this claim, and you know it. No one is asking for a roll-back of regulations. All they wanted was to follow the example of 47 other states and allow 64 ounce growlers, and allow tastings in retail stores like they do with wine.
But the biggest insult is to claim “This bill will not put craft breweries out of business. It simply protects the three-tier system and ensures they are operating within the context of the law.” To begin with, several brewers have said that this could very well put them out of business. Other breweries in planning have said this will probably stop them from opening. Some have suggested they will move operations out of state. Either you did not hear them, or you are calling them liars. And the claims to protect the three-tier system (which is not in any need of protection) are as disingenuous as your claims that you support the craft beer industry.
Finally, you display chutzpah of the highest (lowest?) caliber when you close with “I am proud of the hard work, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of our Florida craft breweries, and I invite any of them to share with me their thoughts and concerns in a professional and respectful manner as it relates to Senate Bill 1714 and the recently filed amendment.” They HAVE shared the thoughts and concerns. Repeatedly. And you have dismissed them out of hand, and attempted to change the conversation by lying and spreading your own misinformation.
Friends, it has never been more important to make your voice heard. Personally, I do not want to bill to pass and then just go dormant because there is no supporting house bill, or due to some technicality. I want it to be voted down in its current form because I firmly believe it is bad for craft beer in Florida. You will notice no one is even talking about growler size anymore. The opposition has effectively changed the debate to be about regulation, distribution, and tightening controls on small businesses.
By now you should know how to contact your local representatives. Call them. Call their Tallahassee office, call their local office, talk to their staffers. As I said before, this is about more than just craft beer. It’s about taking back control.