Beer industry hearings postponed

[private]State Rep. Matt Dollar (R-Marietta) announced in early September that his Interstate Cooperation Committee would hold a series of hearings around the state on how Georgia’s craft beer laws compare with the laws in other states.

“There is a sense Georgia is lagging in comparison to the rest of the states in growth of these industries,” Dollar said in the public notice he posted for the hearings. “The committee will be looking at reasons for this apparent trend.”

Less than two weeks later, those hearings were abruptly off.

“After discussions with House leadership, it appears that the parties involved in these industries are in current negotiations,” Dollar said in a second public notice. “We are all in agreement that a private solution is preferable to a legislative one.”

Dollar said all of the previously scheduled committee meetings, save for one this Thursday at the capitol, would be postponed. “If it appears that negotiations have stalled, the committee will commence with rescheduled meetings,” he wrote.

Dollar is the latest of many people to try to get involved with a long-running dispute between Georgia’s wholesale beer distributors and the state’s growing number of craft brewers.

The wholesale distributors want to keep the state’s alcohol beverage laws, considered to be among the most restrictive in the nation, unchanged. Craft brewers want to relax the restrictions so that they can do such things as have retail beer sales at their breweries.

So far, the wholesale distributors have been largely successful in keeping the lid on the craft brewers.

The orders to stop the committee hearings came from the highest levels of the Georgia House. And there’s no definitive evidence that any real negotiations are in fact taking place between the wholesale distributors and the craft brewers.

“It was the speaker (David Ralston) and just the leadership in general,” Dollar said when asked who had advised him to put off the committee hearings. “I didn’t delve that deeply into what the negotiations were.”

Martin Smith of the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association said by email:

“We’re always working with our brewery partners and legislators/regulators to ensure GA is and remains a great state to brew beer. For instance, Mitch Stone recently chose GA for his new venture. He even credited the growing craft beer scene in GA as the reason for coming to GA.

“By my calculations, there have been 10 new breweries in the state this year, and probably another five to go.”

On the other hand, Nancy Palmer, the executive director of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild, said she wasn’t aware of any negotiations currently in progress.

“The answer is no, there aren’t any negotiations going on,” Palmer said. “It’s not going on at the present time. Anyone who says it is has been sold a bill of goods.”

“The last time I talked to Matt Dollar, two weeks ago, he was absolutely having these committee meetings,” Palmer said.

When asked about where the information about industry negotiations came from, Ralston’s office referred all questions to Rep. Howard Maxwell (R-Dallas). Maxwell chairs the House Regulated Industries Committee, which handles all legislation related to alcoholic beverage laws.

“I have no idea, man, they haven’t brought anything to me yet,” Maxwell said. “I haven’t heard anything out of them at all.”

Are there negotiations going on between the wholesalers and the brewers, or not?

Further clarification might have to await Thursday’s meeting of Dollar’s Interstate Cooperation Committee.

© 2016 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association , Georgia Craft Brewers Guild , Howard Maxwell , Matt Dollar