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Bottoms up: Beer, booze bills clear Senate committee

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Let freedom pour: Bills aimed at changing beer and booze regulations in Florida have cleared their latest review panel.

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee OK’d measures that would allow beer distributors to give free branded beer glasses to bars and restaurants, authorize beer companies to advertise in theme parks and let craft distillers sell more bottles directly to consumers.

Sen. Frank Artiles, the Miami-Dade Republican sponsoring the glass bill (SB 1040), told committee members the measure would benefit small businesses who deal with glass theft and breakage. It would allow brewers to provide glassware to distributors, who could then give away the glasses. Now, they must be sold.

MillerCoors and the state’s craft beer lobby continue to oppose the bill, saying deep-pocketed global beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch stands to benefit the most: Each branded glass effectively acts as a passive advertisement for a particular label.

It was approved 6-1, with Democrat José Javier Rodríguez the lone ‘no’ vote.

Another bill (SB 388) by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of Elkton allows “co-operative advertising” by beer companies in the state’s theme parks. Universal Orlando supports the bill.

The idea behind the measure is to ease the state’s “tied house evil” law by allowing ads, which could include a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park. But some beer representatives privately have complained they “fear being extorted by the theme parks.”

“We do a lot of business (with them), and we kind of see a situation where they say, ‘We do such-and-such theme night but now we’d like you to pay for it,’ by sponsoring it,” said one person, who asked not to be named. “(W)e all feel like we’ll be put over a barrel.”

The bill was cleared 7-0.

The third bill (SB 166), carried by GOP Sen. Greg Steube of Sarasota, would remove a limit on how many bottles distillers can sell directly to consumers, though it requires bottles be no bigger than 1.75 liters. Now, it’s capped at “two bottles per person per brand per year at one location,” he said.

The House version would only expand the limit to six bottles, he noted, in answer to a question from Jacksonville Democrat Audrey Gibson.

But “you can go to Wal-Mart and buy as many shotguns as you want,” he told senators. “I just think the government telling a business how many pieces of product they can sell is archaic. It’s not good public policy.”

The measure was OK’d 6-1, with Gibson the only dissenter.

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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