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Alcohol Regulation Roundup: January 30, 2012

In national news: Congressman Kurt Schrader of Oregon announced last week that he is withdrawing his support of the CARE Act, the piece of legislation that will likely make it more difficult for small producers of wine, beer, and spirits to reach the market. In his statement, Rep. Schrader noted that after listening to the concerns of Oregon’s wine growers he now believes the legislation would be detrimental to their industry.

Also in national news: The Small BREW Act picked up a new cosponsor. Congressman Brad Miller of North Carolina signed onto the act that will reduce costs for small brewers and allow them to brew more while still being considered "small." Currently, small brewers are defined as those making not more than 2 million barrels a year. The BREW Act would up that to 6 million barrels a year. The act also cuts the excise tax rate on the first 60,000 barrels for small brewers from $7 a barrel to $3.50 a barrel. The additional barrels after 60,000 and up to 2 million will be taxed at $16 a barrel.

Arizona: A ballot initiative is underway in Arizona that could give residents the chance to vote on whether or not they’d like a new tax on their alcohol. The tax would amount to 25 cents on every gallon of hard liquor and a dollar on every gallon on beer and wine. Like many other “sin taxes,” this will go to community programs and is sold as a remedy to the financial toll that alcohol abuse has on communities. Of course, this new tax would be in addition to the alcohol taxes that Arizona already has. Currently, the state of Arizona extracts $3 per gallon of spirits, 84 cents on every gallon of wine, and 16 cents on each gallon of beer. There are no plans to give money back to people for the scientifically proven health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption.

Connecticut: Earlier this month, Connecticut Governor Malloy released details of his plans to update the state’s alcohol laws. Among other things, Malloy hopes to legalize Sunday sales of alcohol, get rid of the holiday sales bans, and eliminate minimum pricing. If successful, the new laws will hopefully reduce costs for consumers and prevent residents from buying their booze in neighboring states.

Indiana: Bills pending in the House and Senate would allow consumers to buy cold Indiana-brewed beer in grocery, convenience, and drug stores. Currently, only liquor stores may sell cold beer. Even those who want cold beer in grocery stores are skeptical that the bill, which would not allow cold beer sales of beer made out-of-state would hold up against judicial scrutiny.

Kansas: Kansas lawmakers are considering changes in way alcohol is regulated throughout the state. The new laws would allow grocery stores to carry hard liquor, full-strength beer, and wine, while also allowing liquor stores to expand their product lines to non-alcoholic items. Another bill would also allow liquor stores to hold tastings.

Mississippi: At least one lawmaker in Mississippi is trying to drag the state into the 21st century. Rep. David Baria introduced legislation that will raise the allowed limit of alcohol by weight on beer from 5 percent to 8 percent. It’s still not very high, considering the increasing number of craft beers with upwards of 10 percent alcohol by volume, but it’s a step forward.  The folks at the non-profit outfit Raise Your Pints Mississippi have been fighting for years to remove the cap as well as officially decriminalizing home brewing in the state.

New York: Senator David Valesky has introduced a bill that would grant brewing licenses to farmers if they get a “certain percentage” of the beer’s ingredients from New York farms. Notably, the new license lets farmer-brewers sell their product directly to retailers -- skipping the costly middleman of the wholesaler or distributor. The new license will cost $320, which is just slightly less than the cost of a microbrewery license.

Ohio: A new law set to go into effect on May 22 will make it easier for start-up craft breweries and distillers in the state. House Bill 243, which was signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in December, will allow small-batch distillers to open in the state and operate tasting rooms as well as allowing small breweries to serve samples and sell beer from the tasting rooms without needing to purchase a $3,900 special permit to do so.

Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) is still lobbying for any idea other than privatization that would satisfy residents who are sick and tired of the outdated and inconvenient laws. The latest proposal, which would allow over 1,000 beer distributors to sell wine and six-packs (currently they must sell by the case) received a lukewarm reception from all parties. The distributors say they can sell wine, but licensing fees need to be low enough so they can profit. Consumers on the other hand want more convenience and want the state out of the business of selling alcohol.

Also in PA: A councilwoman in Philadelphia is catching grief for her proposal to keep Philly drinking for the kids! City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown introduced a measure that would extend bar hours from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. in order to bring in more revenue to be put toward the school district. They estimate that the additional hour will bring in an additional $5 million in tax revenue. Not too shabby. (Hat tip to Ryan Lynch for the story.)

Virginia: Drown your sadness in a beer because it doesn’t look like the expensive and onerous alcohol regulatory regime in the Old Dominion State is going away anytime soon. Governor Bob McDonald hinted that he isn’t going to take up the effort to privatize the state-run liquor store system in the next session. After his valiant, but utterly failed attempt last year, it’s hard to blame him.

He is, however, taking baby steps in the right direction. At his request, Delegate Dave Albo introduced legislation that would allow state-run stores to remain open on Sundays.

Wisconsin: Considering that a big part of home brewing is really about showing off one's skills to friends and competitors, Wisconsin’s ban on moving home-brew out of the home has placed a real burden on the activity since 2011. However, a bill (Bill LRB 3101) working its way through the legislature would allow hobby brewers to present their beer at meetings and fairs.