Alcohol Regulation Roundup: February 27, 2012

National: A Sioux tribe in South Dakota has filed a landmark suit against national beer makers for knowingly contributing the tribe’s alcohol problems. The Pine Ridge Reservation, infamous for its troubles in the 1970s, is seeking $500 million in damages the tribe says it incurred as a result of the alcoholism fueled by nearby Nebraska beer stores selling to residents of the reservations where alcohol is prohibited.

Alabama: The legislative session began on February 7, and will consist of no more than 30 Legislative Days. In that span of time, Free the Hops plans to introduce and hopes to pass their gourmet beer bottle bill to relieve restrictions on beer container sizes. Alabama is the only state that restricts single containers of beer to 16 ounces or less. The gourmet bottle bill will increase the limit to 22 oz and 750 ml.

Also in Alabama: Legislation that would legalize home brewing is under consideration at the state House. Along with Mississippi, Alabama holds the dubious distinction of being one of only two states that still maintain the Prohibition-era ban on beer making.

Connecticut: Governor Dannel Malloy is hell-bent on updating his state’s liquor laws to better compete with neighboring states. Connecticut’s out-dated regulations include price controls that make booze expensive, blue laws that prevents off-premise sales on Sundays, and a host of other restrictions that makes alcohol in the state expensive for business owners and consumers.

Idaho: Plans to put liquor privatization on the ballot may be halted due to claims that the state constitution puts regulation of alcohol in the legislature’s purview.

Iowa: A campaign is underway in Boise Des Moines to convince lawmakers to legalize pre-mixed cocktails and bitters. Current state law prevents trendy bar items like cocktails aged in oak barrels, distilled spirits flavored with herbs (aka bitters), and infused spirits soaked in items from cherries to bacon. Liquor must be kept in the original packaging until the day of serving.

Mississippi: For the past five years, craft beer drinkers and brewers in Mississippi have attempted to raise the states alcohol limit on malt beverages. This year’s House Bill 26, introduced by Democrat Rep. David Baria would raise the cap on alcohol in beer from 5 to 8 percent.

Nebraska: State Sen. Russ Karpisek introduced a proposal that would ban the sale of liquor lower than its wholesale price, ultimately resulting in an alcohol minimum pricing scheme.

New Jersey  Garden State residents might have an easier and cheaper time buying alcohol by next year. A proposal being considered by the legislature would increase the number of retail liquor license individuals and companies can hold (currently limited to 2) which would allow grocery store chains to offer alcohol throughout the state, hopefully encouraging more stores to open.

North Carolina:  Thanks to deregulation, North Carolina is expecting a beer boom. When Sierra Nevada, the second largest craft brewer in the US announced that they were looking for home for their east coast brewery many cities jumped in line to woo the company. While the Sierra folks liked NC there was one problem: North Carolina’s outdated laws prevented brewers from selling other brands at their attached restaurants and a prohibited them from selling beer at their gift shops.

Rhode Island: Proposal in the Rhode Island House would legalize wine and beer at farmers’ markets throughout the state.

Tennessee: Tennessee is following in California’s foot-steps and considering a ban on sales of alcohol using automated check-out lines for fear that minors can more easily buy booze. This, despite the fact that purchased of alcohol at the automated machines requires an employee to approve the sale and check ID.

Virginia: Two weeks ago, the state House approved a bill that would allow breweries to lease their facilities to other licensed breweries. This is a huge boon for start-up brewers who can’t afford the massive cost of buying their own brewing facility which is currently required by state law. The bill now goes to the state Senate for a vote.

Washington: The State House approved a bill creating a new license that will allow single-screen movie theaters in the state to serve beer and wine. Its companion bill awaits a vote in the Senate.

West Virginia: The State House approved a bill that would allow liquor stores to conduct “non-intoxicating” sampling of alcohol.

Wisconsin Last week, Wisconsin’s State Senate passed, almost unanimously, a bill that would change the law which prohibits home brewers from transporting their beer outside of the home. The bill now moves to the Assembly and from there a signature from the Governor.

Of course, the only people opposed to what should be a common-sense piece of legislation are the big alcohol distributors: the Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association and the Wisconsin Wine and Spirit Institute. They argue that home brewers could be transporting any amount of beer without the state knowing because oversight and compliance will be impossible.