Committees within the Florida House and Senate began discussions regarding the regulatory scheme surrounding beer in Florida on Wednesday. It was generally a day for the legislators to discuss the basics and gain some knowledge. In the Senate, the Regulated Industries Committee heard a presentation from an attorney with the Senate. The presentation was a general overview of the three tier system, tied house laws, licensing issues (including tourism exception) and growler/container size issues. The powerpoint presentation can be viewed in the meeting packet here. The Business and Professions Subcommittee in the House heard presentations from groups including the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, Beer Industry of Florida and the Florida Brewers Guild on the three tier system, self distribution and franchise agreements (the distributor groups said you would rue the day you mess with franchise agreements).

The Regulated Industries Committee includes Senators Latvala and Stargel.  Stargel pushed a controversial malt beverage bill in the Senate last year while Latvala has generally championed the growler bill. The meeting demonstrated that there is a lot to be learned for the legislators in both the House and Senate. They are very much unaware of the manner in which the beer industry operates. It is understandable. They have to know quite a bit about a lot of different industries.

Senator Stargel noted that when she thinks of retailers, she thinks of liquor stores and asked whether a bar is a retailer also. She also made the assumption that most bars are licensed for on premise sales only. Senator Sachs sought clarification about the difference between a brewery that can hold a vendor license pursuant to the tourism exception and a brewpub (she compared Budweiser/Heineken to Brewzzi).  After Mitch Rubin of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association asserted that beer in growlers stays fresh for 3 or 4 days if kept in a dark and cool place and in a very clean container, Senator Stargel asked how that works with distribution. How do you get growlers from the manufacturer to the distributor to the retailer and still get them to the consumer before it goes bad? Of course, growlers are not being filled for distribution. That would defeat the purpose. It would generally be alright to ask a question like this. Better to understand as much as possible. The concern here is that Senator Stargel is less than one year removed from saying “we have to be like a parent in this process and we have to sometimes do what we know as lawmakers is the best thing for their industry.” If the parent doesn’t understand the child, how can she be so sure she knows best?

Senator Sachs also asked whether every state has size regulations after Eric Criss of the Beer Industry of Florida group discussed deregulating container sizes. It was a conversation that lacked nuance. While states have regulations, allowing containers between 32 and 128 ounces or allowing just the additional 64 ounce container does not mean complete deregulation. Later in the day, in front of the House Business and Professions subcommittee, Mitch Rubin was asked whether the three tier system is the regulatory scheme in all states. He answered that while a couple states are still government controlled, it is generally the model used in all 50 states. There were no follow up questions about exceptions in other states. Again, while the three tier system is the norm, so are exceptions.

Eric Criss used the term “deregulation” multiple times. It paints a picture that might tend to scare folks. This is often the theme. Mitch Rubin in front of the House Subcommittee on Business and Professions, claimed that deregulation, or any additional exceptions to the three tier system would be like adjusting a fire hydrant and having it gush with alcohol as a result. Rubin began his discussion in the front of the Business and Professions Subcommittee by claiming that any discussion of alcohol must begin with fact that alcohol is historical vice. It was also claimed that alcohol causes problems in the community. These claims are always kept incredibly vague and without actual backup/causation. It does beg the question, if you are so worried about the “evils” of alcohol, maybe you shouldn’t be in the business of selling it?

There was another theme that emerged. The disdain for breweries’ tasting rooms was apparent. Eric Criss wants to see taprooms without full vendors licenses. That would generally mean, as he explained, a limit on guest taps. He noted his belief that the tourism exception is being improperly interpreted.  He also said guest taps are misleading because these include brands like Boston Beer and Sierra Nevada (that doesn’t make the term guest misleading). Later in the day, Criss noted that the provision in Florida Statute 561.221 that calls for a brewery and other structures that promote tourism of the state refers to structures that should be killer whales, roller coasters and Mickey Mouse costumes.

Regarding self distribution, which was discussed in front of the House subcommittee, Mitch Rubin basically said the genius aspect of craft beer distribution is that small beer brands travel to the market on the backs of their big beer brethren. Distributors’ trucks are filled with big beer and a small amount of craft beer gets to go along for the ride. I suppose then, what he was getting at may have been that brewers should just be happy with what they’ve got and feel lucky. Eric Criss did suggest that the Beer Industry of Florida would be willing to consider limited self distribution in the future once their other concerns are handled (these were generally the tourism exception and the manner in which taprooms can function in breweries).

Ultimately, the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries decided they would work on a Proposed Committee Bill. Their goal is to produce a product from the committee that is ready to go as a bill and won’t need much in the way of amendments.

You can watch or listen to the archived meetings at the links below:

Florida Senate Regulated Industries Committee – http://www.flsenate.gov/Committees/Show/RI/?Tab=Meetings

Florida House of Representatives Business and Professions Subcommittee – http://thefloridachannel.org/videos/