Alcohol Regulation Roundup: January 24, 2011

In national news: The Federal Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is proposing a bill that would require all producers of beer, wine, and spirits to include bottle labels that lists the nutritional content and ingredients of their products. Larger producers of alcohol look on this favorably, which isn’t surprising. Such a bill is likely to eliminate much of the competition they have been experiencing lately with the craft beer and small-wine movement, as smaller producers will be less able to afford the additional costs of determining nutritional contents of each variety of wine, beer, or spirits, and the cost of the labels.

Maryland: Howard County delegation approved liquor sampling in retail stores and is considering raising the hotel tax rate by 2 percent. Last week county lawmakers approved a bill that will allow alcohol retailers to serve samples totaling one ounce per customer of liquor on-site.

Mississippi: The Mississippi Business Journal is taking Governor Dean Kirby and Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant to task for not supporting a bill that would raise the alcohol content of Mississippi beer. Currently, beer is capped and Kirby for being “anti-business” over not supporting beer bill

Mississippi’s laws currently restrict alcohol content in beers to 5 percent alcohol by weight, the lowest in the nation.

Raise Your Pints Mississippi, an all-volunteer organization that I’ve written about before, initiated legislation (introduced by Democratic Sen. David Baria) that would raise the limit to 8 percent alcohol by weight as well as legalizing home-brewing.

North Carolina: Governor Perdue chickened out on privatization the state-run liquor stores, declaring that she doesn’t want to be the governor that puts liquor bottles in grocery stores.

South Carolina: Lawmakers are attempting to ban alcoholic energy drinks such as Four Loko and Joose. Despite the fact that the FDA has essentially banned production stores in the state continue to sell the stocks of AEDs that they have already spent money on. One state lawmaker wants to make sure they can’t recoup their investment. The proposed ban on alcoholic energy drinks advances, as I write about here.

Texas: Re-elected Governor Rick Perry’s invitation-only dinner (with some guests paying as much as $100,000 to attend) provides a sickening example of why wholesalers and distributors of alcohol have some much power in the U.S. legislature and why laws that protect their businesses continually pass, regardless of the harm it does to producers and consumers. One Dallas beer distributor, Barry Andrews, reportedly donated $25,000. Liquor distributors as a whole have given Rick Perry millions of dollars in donations. Perhaps that is why Texas has some the most restrictive distribution laws in the nation: big wholesalers wield Perry’s political power to keep competitors under control.

Back in 2007 a member of the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission called the distribution in the state “a corrupt system that no longer serves the public interest and protects the wholesale distributors of alcoholic beverages in Texas,” and called for the state to dismantle the system.

In more positive Texas news, two state bills were filed that would liberalize laws regarding brewery tastings and brewpub distribution. Rep. Mike Villarreal filed a bill (HB 660) which would allow Texas brewpubs to distribute their beer anywhere in Texas as well as selling up to 5000 barrels of beer a year directly to consumers at the brewpub.

Another bill, filed by Jessica Ferrar (HB 602) would allow breweries to charge for tours, and then give customers up to 48 12-oz. bottles

Let’s see if these can get past Governor Perry and his wholesaler friends.

Washington: Two proposals gaining support in Seattle would afford lovers of spirits, wine, and beer in the city more opportunities to sample before purchasing. Rep. Hunt’s bill would allow spirits tasting in liquor stores, while Rep. Kenney’s bill will allow beer and wine tastings at farmers markets.