Florida Beverage Industry Bills Update – March 30, 2014

Beverage industry bills pending in the Florida Legislature–specifically the beer bills–saw exciting action during the week of March 24. House and Senate committees heard impassioned testimony from Florida brewers. Three beer bills were unanimously passed out of committee, but in each case the passed bill differed from the original version, the result of late-filed amendments. It’s getting hard to follow, which is why we bring you our weekly legislative update.

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Handful of Bills Moving Out of Committee; Others Going Nowhere

Here’s a short run-down of the bills affecting the beverage industry in Florida and the status of each of them.

HB 283 (authorizing growlers and beer tastings). This bill, introduced by Representative Young way back in November 2013, would authorize containers of any size (including 64 oz growlers) and would allow beer tastings at retail locations. The original version was already passed by the Business & Professional Regulations Subcommittee, but Representative Young filed a strike-all amendment on March 26, 2014. That amendment brings HB 283 into line with the beer tasting regulations provided in CS/HB 387 and CS/SB 470, while keeping the growler authorization. After Representative Young’s amendment was filed, the Regulatory Affairs Committee hearing scheduled for March 27, 2014 was deferred.

CS/HB 387 (authorizing beer tastings only). Having passed in the House Regulatory Affairs Committee, this bill to authorize and regulate beer tastings at retail locations received its first reading on the House floor. A bill must be read 3 times prior to receiving a vote of the full House. It’s been calendared for a second reading next week.

HB 1201 (regulation of wine and spirit importers). Since being referred to the House Business & Professional Regulation Subcommittee, this bill has seen no action. The same is true for its companion in the Senate, SB 1552.

CS/HB 1329 (comprehensive regulation of beer manufacturing). Last week, House Bill 1329 was under attack. This week, it’s praised by brewers and their supporters. This reversal comes after the House Business & Professional Regulation Subcommittee’s hearing on the bill, including the amendments. Jennifer Gratz of Fort Myers Brewing spoke admirably on behalf of Florida brewers, but the real action centered on Representative Steube’s strike-all amendment, which gutted the original text of HB 1329 (summarized here). With the bill’s sponsor, Representative Rodrigues, in attendance and seemingly agreeable to the amendment, the amended bill easily passed unanimously. The amended bill got its first reading on the House floor on March 27, but a second reading has not yet been scheduled.

HB 7075 (comprehensive regulation of beer manufacturing). Representative Steube’s first attempt at comprehensive reform for the brewing industry (reviewed here), which immediately drew broad support from brewers, House Bill 7075 continues to sit in the House Business & Professional Regulation Subcommittee. No hearing of the bill has been scheduled. Now that much of HB 7075 has been subsumed into the passed amended version of HB 1329 (with some significant differences), it seems likely that HB 7075 will not progress out of the subcommittee.

CS/SB 406 (authorizing growlers and beer tastings). Since passing out of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on February 13, 2014, not much seems to be happening with this bill. It did receive first reading on the Senate floor on March 4, 2014, but a second reading is not scheduled and the bill is still up for consideration in the Community Affairs Committee.

CS/SB 470 (authorizing beer tastings only). Like CS/HB 1329 and SPB 7120, Senate Bill 470 came up for hearing in committee, and what passed out is quite a bit different than the original text. The Senate Community Affairs Committee approved an amended version of the bill that matches the amended version of its companion, House Bill 387, which already passed out of committee last week. CS/SB 470 is not yet scheduled for its first reading on the Senate floor.

SB 1552 (regulation of wine and spirit importers). Like it’s companion, HB 1201, Senate Bill 1552 appears to have gotten no attention. It is in the Regulated Industries Committee and is not scheduled for a hearing.

SB 1714 (formerly SPB 7120). Senate Bill 1714 is the reincarnated version of the passed amended version of SPB 7120. Nothing is scheduled for SB 1714 currently.

SPB 7120 (comprehensive regulation of beer manufacturing). The excitement of the Regulated Industry Committee’s hearing on Senate Proposed Bill 7120 easily matched that in the hearing on CS/HB 1329, but the outcome was markedly different. The committee heard testimony opposing the bill from brewers Craig Birkmaier, Swamp Head Brewery, and Bryan Burroughs, Proof Brewing Co., as well as Florida Brewers Guild lobbyist Josh Aubuchon. Despite opposition, the amended version of the bill passed by the committee is not too different than the original on major issues. South Florida attorney and Beer Bar colleague, Ross Appel, has described the ways in which the passed version of SPB 7120 compares to the original version. A strike-all amendment filed by Representative Gibson, which would have brought the bill closer in line with CS/HB 1329 as amended, was voluntarily withdrawn at the hearing.

Few Changes May Come Out of 2014 Legislative Session

Just a BillThere’s still time on the clock, but it’s beginning to look more doubtful that major changes to the beverage industry will come out of the 2014 session of the Florida Legislature. As of March 29, 2014, only 34 days remain until the scheduled end of the session on Friday, May 2, 2014. Most of the beverage industry bills still sitting in committee, some without having a first hearing scheduled, and it’s a long road from committee to the Governor’s desk.

It’s pretty clear that wine and spirit importers can stop caring about the 2014 session right now. The only bills affecting them–HB 1201 and SB 1552–are probably not going to go anywhere in the next month.

The comprehensive reform bills–CS/HB 1329 and SP 1714 (as successor to SPB 7120)–have both cleared their respective committees, but they are substantially different both in text and effect. Even if these bills get a floor vote, it’s difficult to see how they could be reconciled in the time remaining for the 2014 session. It’s more likely that the debate surrounding the competing regulatory schemes embodied in these two bills will continue long past the close of the 2014 legislative session.

The beer tasting only bills–CS/HB 387 and CS/SB 470–appear to be farthest along in the process. Matching versions of the bill have passed out of committee in both the House and the Senate. However, while CS/HB 387 is on the calendar for its second reading on the House floor, CS/SB has yet to have its first reading in the Senate.

What about the 64 oz growler? Despite being the rallying cry entering the 2014 session, and despite that fact that all of the beer bills up for consideration support the 64 oz growler (if not every other size), it might be that none of the bills authorizing the 64 oz growler gets a vote in the House or the Senate.

No committee hearings on the beverage industry bills are schedule for the week of March 31, 2014, and we’re not quite sure what will happen to the beverage industry bills next week. Whatever does or doesn’t happen, we’ll report on it here.