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Senate panel OKs beer bill — that beer companies hate

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A bill that—as one beer-company insider put it—could allow theme parks to “extort” advertising dollars out of them cleared a Senate panel this week.

The legislation (SB 388), which allows beer companies to advertise in theme parks, was OK’d unanimously by the Senate Regulated Industries Committee with scant attention.

It chips away at the state’s “tied house evil” law by allowing ads, which could include a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park. And ironically, the companies don’t want the law changed.

Moreover, a previous version of the bill theoretically could have allowed beer makers to stock the inside of any Florida bar or tavern with ads because it covered any “vendor licensed under the Beverage Law.”

Bill sponsor Travis Hutson, the Elkton Republican who chairs the committee, amended the bill so it only covered the parks.

“This is a holdover from Prohibition-era laws,” Hutson told the committee Wednesday. He couldn’t be reached Thursday.

As the Tampa Tribune once explained, “Florida and other states passed ‘tied house’ laws, which prohibited taverns and bars from being owned by, or ‘tied’ to, alcoholic beverage manufacturers. Tied houses, common in England, were thought to encourage overconsumption.”

“The federal government … has left this authority up to the states,” Hutson added. If signed into law, Florida would be the fifth state to allow beer ads in its theme parks, he added.

But the strike-all’s language is rather specific: “… a theme park complex comprised of at least 25 contiguous acres owned and controlled by the same business entity and which contains permanent exhibitions and a variety of recreational activities and has a minimum of 1 million visitors annually.”

Representatives for SeaWorld and Universal Orlando said they supported the measure.

Lobbyists for MillerCoors; the Beer Industry of Florida, the association of Florida’s MillerCoors distributors; and the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, which represents Anheuser-Busch distributors; all opposed it.

One critic of the legislation, who asked not to be identified, said current law “actually promotes an open market and competition.”

It prohibits “directly or indirectly giving, lending, renting, selling, or in any other manner furnishing to a vendor any outside sign, printed, painted, electric, or otherwise; providing neon or electric signs, window painting and (decals), posters, placards, and other advertising material … in the interior of (a) licensed premises,” according to a bill analysis.

Under Hutson’s measure, “the biggest players will come in and write the biggest checks,” this person said.

“So when you sit down in a park to order a beer, you’ll look up, see the signage, point to it and tell your waiter, ‘I guess I’ll just have one of those,’ ” the person said.

Still another beer company representative, who also asked not to be named, said 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,” the second person said. “None of the beer guys support this because we all feel like we’ll be put over a barrel.”

The Senate bill, which has an identical House companion (HB 423), will next be considered by the chamber’s Commerce and Tourism and Rules committees. The House bill has not yet had a hearing.

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

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