Hill: They neutered my craft brewer bill

[private]State Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta) is trying to figure out how his bill to give craft brewers the ability to provide small amounts of their beers to consumers got thrown so far off track by the bureaucrats in the state revenue department.

He’s not the only one. The people who own and operate craft breweries in Georgia have been complaining ever since the revenue department issued the final version of the rule by which it will enforce SB 63.

“It has the net effect of neutering the bill,” Hill said (the text of the rule can be read here).

He said he’s trying to meet with Gov. Nathan Deal – who appointed revenue Commissioner Lynne Riley – to see if it would be possible to change the rule administratively.

“It’s something that needs to be addressed by the governor’s office or by a new bill,” Hill said.

The original legislative intent for introducing SB 63 was to allow craft brewers to sell and market their products directly to customers rather than being required by Georgia’s “three-tier” alcohol regulation system to distribute their beer through wholesalers.

Other states have loosened up their alcohol laws, but Georgia is one of the few that still prohibits brewers from selling at retail, either for package sales or on-premises consumption. That situation is largely attributed to the influence of lobbyists for the brewers and wholesalers who have dominated the industry for years.

By the time SB 63 was finally passed by the Legislature, it had been watered down so that craft brewers and distilleries could hold free beer tastings as part of paid tours, but they were still prohibited from doing retail sales.

The rule promulgated by the revenue department for SB 63 went a step further and said craft brewers would have to charge the same admission price for all brewery tours, regardless of how expensive the beer was.

That’s the provision that particularly upset the brewers — if they try to charge different prices for tours based on the different prices of the beers, they would be cited by revenue agents for an illegal retail sale.

“If you get cited for a retail sale, you lose your tasting license for a year,” Hill said. “This rule is throwing that all out of balance.”

He said he hopes to get the rule changed back to a more permissive earlier draft through the administrative process.

If Deal and his commissioner stick with the current version of the rule, supporters of craft brewers would have to introduce and pass another bill next year – which has proven to be an arduous process on this particular issue.

Hill isn’t sure he wants to get drawn back into that battle again: “I’ll have to make a decision on that (introducing a new bill),” he said.

© 2015 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: craft brewers , Hunter Hill , Nathan Deal , paid tours , revenue department