Lobbying battle brewing over beer legislation

8:32 PM, Jan 16, 2014   |    comments
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(Tallahasse Democrat) Easing state alcohol laws has proven anything but easy.

A state Senate panel Thursday morning gave an early nod to legislation that would allow stores to host beer tastings, but delayed voting on a second measure that would have allowed people to buy draft beer in 64-ounce growlers. Both bills proved contentious among segments of Florida's beer industry.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, is sponsoring SB 470, the beer-tasting bill. She said the bill had a simple goal. Florida allows stores to offer samples of wine, so why not allow beer tasting, too? The effort has the support of brewers, including beer giants MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch.

Mitch Rubin, a lobbyist for Florida's beer distributors, said it wasn't that simple. Wine tastings are, by their nature, "more subdued" affairs. On the other hand, he said, convenience stores could start promoting beer events on the radio and drawing people to promotional events on their property, they could fuel a "party atmosphere" and hurt the industry's image.

Detert said she was willing to "tighten up" portions of the bill to help different beer interests, as well as groups working to prevent alcohol abuse, sort out their differences.

"It was strictly a common-sense bill. As we can all see, it's turning into a beer food-fight," she said, looking at the assembled beer-industry lobbyists. Then she deadpanned: "I'm happy to hear that all lobbyists will be writing an amendment to my bill. I look forward to reading it."

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who chairs the Regulated Industries Committee, said the growler bill had also gotten bogged down in controversy among different beer interests. The committee delayed discussion on that measure, but she said there's plenty of time to resolve those disputes before the legislative session begins. A similar bill was proposed last year, but died in committee.

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