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Alcohol Regulation Roundup: Beer for Our Soldiers Edition

Not to overshadow the once-in-100-year numerically sequenced date, but today is also Veterans' Day. This isn't a great way to get free drinks at the bar by telling people you're a vet (unless you actually are), but a change to give thanks for mind-blowing bravery and committment of those around us who defend our freedoms with their lives. If anyone deserves a taste of the high life, it's those folks. While there's no word on having the legal drinking age lowered so that 18-year-olds who can sign up for military service can also drink a cold beer before they ship out, there's plenty of other alcohol regulation news.

National: The Brewers Association reports that the beer tasting event at Congress, which I mentioned in my last roundup, was a big success. Four additional members signed up as co-sponsors to the “Small BREW Act,” HR 1236 bringing the total number of co-sponsors to 137. The Act would reduce excise taxes on small breweries.

California: Craft beer lovers in the city of Sacramento lament an ordinance passed in the mid-‘90s called the “single serve ordinance,” which prevents off-premise sales of single bottles of beer -- consumers much purchase a six-pack or more. Would-be craft beer store owners along with beer lovers are urging legislators to change the out-dated law which bars the city from carrying many of the high-end beers, those that come in bottles of 22 ounces or 750 milliliters and aren’t packaged in 6-pack form.

Georgia: As I reported in October, Georgia recently overturned the state-wide ban on Sunday sales by allowing counties and cities to vote on whether or not to maintain the prohibition-era blue laws. On Tuesday, Georgians sent a message to their lawmakers that they are so over prohibition. More than 100 counties approved ballot measures allowing Sunday alcohol sales.

Also in Georgia: The Athens-Clarke Commission voted by a vote of 7-3 to reduce the distance that beer and wine shops must be from churches, schools, and homes, from 200 yards to 100 yards.

Massachusetts: As I noted in the updated version of last week’s roundup, the bill that would bring an end to Massachusetts’ “happy hour ban” has been put on the back burner, according to the measure’s supporters. While the amendment was passed in October as part of the casino legalization bill, the senators (Timilty and Hedlund) who sponsored the amendment are recommending it be “put on hold” while the committee spends a year evaluating current alcohol laws.

Minnesota: Soon "the church of beer" could be a lot closer to actual churches in Minneapolis. Thanks to the efforts of one would-be pub operator, Rob Miller, the city is considering modifying an ordinance that requires bars and liquor stores to be more than 300 feet away from religious institutions. If the change is made, Miller would be able to open his “Dangerous Man Brewing Company,” which would be a “destination tap house brewery.” As we saw earlier this year with the so-called “Surly bill,” a motivated brewer with a promising business plan can effect change in the North Star State.

Nebraska: The highest court in Nebraska heard arguments this week in an appeals case about whether sweetened malt beverages, also known as “alcopops," should be taxed as hard liquor rather than beer. While the drinks start out as malted beer, they are flavored with distilled alcohol. Earlier this year a District Court Judge ruled that state law stipulated any drink containing distilled alcohol is “hard liquor” and should be taxed as such.

Ohio: Buckeye state residents can now legally "brown bag" wine -- which is to say that they can bring in pre-purchased wine to establishments that do not serve alcohol.

Pennsylvania: A new report has folks asking if Pennsylvania is getting out of the booze business. A recent report commissioned by the Governor’s Budget Office analyzed the current operations of the state-run liquor system, and benefits or drawbacks of privatization plans. The report was mostly positive on the prospect of privatization to fiscally benefit the state, residents, and cause few negative side-effects: “PFM believes that the Governor’s commitment to privatize PLCB’s wholesale and retail operations, freeing them to concentrate solely on regulation and public safety, is well founded. Moreover, as demonstrated throughout the report, privatization of PLCB can unlock valuable resources for the Commonwealth to dedicate to achieve other policy goals, while providing economic opportunity to the private sector and enhanced convenience and choice to the state’s consumers.”

Utah: The Provo Municipal Council voted 5-1 last month to end the ban on Sunday beer sales in the city. The law, which was reportedly signed by Mayor John Curtis, went into effect in late October.

Washington: And the big news this week from the alcohol world, of course, is the vote in Washington State that officially ends the state control of liquor wholesaling there. Voters went to the polls on Tuesday and nearly 60 percent of them said they wanted liquor privatization. By June, liquor sales will shift from state-run stores to grocery and warehouse stores. The state budgeting office estimates that the change will net $80 million more in annual revenue for the state and local governments over the next six years.