Florida Beverage Industry Bills Update – April 27, 2014

***Updated April, 27, 2014 9:00 pm to reflect proposed strike-all amendment to Senate Bill 1714 filed by bill sponsor, Senator Kelli Stargel. Updates reflected as struck-through and underlined text.***

This past week saw action on only two beverage bills, but the action was dramatic. With one week remaining in the 2014 Florida legislative session, the story becomes a tale of two Senate bills.

Senate Bill 470 would have done nothing more than allow beer tastings at licensed retailers. Senate Bill 1714 would completely up-end how Florida breweries map a path to commercial success, putting a big toll on their access to consumers. Only one of these bills is poised to get a vote on the Senate floor–guess which one.

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Put Away that 3.5 oz Cup: No Retail Beer Tastings

We haven’t heard much outrage or concern about Senate Bill 470, the only point of which is to authorize licensed retailers to provide beer tastings. Unanimously approved by the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, Community Affairs Committee, and this past Tuesday, April 22, 2014, the Appropriations Committee, SB 470 just needed to get a second and third reading on the Senate floor and a vote. That appears very unlikely now.

This past Friday, April 25, SB 470 was referred to the Senate Rules Committee which is not planning to convene again before the end of the 2014 session.That means it is probably the end of the line for SB 470. Maybe SB 470’s companion in the House of Representative, House Bill 387, had already stalled: HB 387 has been stuck on the second reading calendar for several weeks, with no date certain for being read or getting a vote.

We’ll just have to content ourselves another year by sampling wine and spirits at licensed retailers, which is already allowed under Florida law.

Questioned and Much Maligned, Senate Bill 1714 Poised for Vote

Every Senate committee hearing on Senate Bill 1714 (or its predecessor, SPB 7120) has been exciting, and the Rules Committee hearing on Monday, April 21, 2014 was no exception. At the end of the day, Senator Andy Gardiner’s strike-all amendment of SB 1714 was approved by a 9-4 vote of the Rules Committee.

Important Takeaways from the Hearing

News outlets from around the state have already thoroughly covered the hearing and the outrage Senate Bill 1714 continues to fire in Florida brewers, craft beer supports, and the general public (our own Trevor Brewer quoted in the Tampa Bay Business Journal and the Jacksonville Business Journal; other good coverage here, here, and here). Rather than rehashing the details, we focus your attention on the 3 biggest takeaways from the Rules Committee hearing:

Takeaway No. 1: Florida brewers came out in numbers (20 to 30 by most counts) and made impassioned, mostly reasonable pleas about how SB 1714 would damage their businesses and Florida’s fledgling beer manufacturing industry. It was a heartening display of direct political action.

Takeaway No. 2: A number of senators–including Chair John Thrasher, Vice Chair Christopher Smith, Senator Tom Lee, and Senator Eleanor Sobel–openly questioned whether Senate Bill 1714 is worthy of a final vote in its current form. Also, Senator Jack Latvala continued his one-man crusade against SB 1714, this time suggesting that SB 1714 could result in a regulatory taking (meaning that the State of Florida would have to compensate existing breweries if SB 1714 became law).

Takeaway No. 3: Florida brewers are not in dialogue with SB 1714 sponsor, Senator Kelli Stargel. Explaining how she decided on the threshold number of 2,000 kegs (discussed below), Senator Stargel said that Florida brewers did not return her calls to discuss the right number. Granted, the whole idea of a threshold only came about in the week since the prior hearing on SB 1714, which is hardly enough time to get together to have a reasoned discussion about such a thing.

Key Points of Senate Bill 1714, as Amended

Every time Senate Bill 1714 has come before a committee it has been supplanted or drastically amended. With the bill likely headed to the Senate floor (discussed below), it’s a good time to recap the key points of Senate Bill 1714 in its current form, as approved by the Rules Committee.

On the eve of Senate Bill 1714’s second reading on the Senate floor (and possible full vote of the Senate), bill sponsor Senator Kelli Stargel filed a proposed strike-all amendment that would drastically change some of the most criticized aspects of SB 1714. Those changes are reflected in the summary below by struck-through and underlined text.

  • Brewery Taprooms: Florida breweries could continue to have taprooms that sell their own beer and guest beer for consumption on premises. Guest beers would have to be purchased from a licensed distributor, including collaborative beers not brewed on a brewery’s premises.
  • Growlers: Breweries could fill growlers with their own beer. Full liquor bars could fill growlers with anyone’s beer. Brewpubs couldn’t fill growlers with anyone’s beer. Growlers would be limited to 32 oz, 64 oz, or 128 oz. The bill provides for regulations for filing and sealing growlers.
  • Cans and Bottles: Breweries that product no more than 2,000 kegs (31,000 gallons) of beer per year could sell All breweries could sell up to 2,000 kegs (31,000 gallons) of their own beer in pre-packaged containers from their own taprooms without involving a distributor. Breweries with production over 2,000 kegs would have to “go through” a distributor to purchase and resell cans and bottles of their own beer, but the distributor would not be required to move the beer of the brewery’s premise (without including production for consumption in the taproom) could continue to sell in their taprooms, without involving a distributor, up to 20% of their beer produced for consumption off premises. Limit one keg per consumer per day.
  • Multiple Brewery Locations: A brewery could not have more than one taproom. Beer A manufacturer’s own beer could not be transported between two brewery premises under common ownership without it coming to rest with a distributor, up to 2,000 kegs (31,000 gallons) per year.
  • Food Service: Breweries could be licensed as restaurants. Brewpubs would not be required to be licensed as restaurants.
  • Licensing Bond: The minimum bond required for a brewing license would be reduced from $20,000 to $5,000.

Senate Bill 1714 Goes to the Senate Floor

Senate Bill 1714 is on the Senate’s Special Order Calendar for Monday, April 28, 2014. This means that, sometime Monday, SB 1714 will be considered by the full Senate. Senator Kelli Stargel, as the bill’s sponsor, will summarize the bill on the Senate floor and then she will respond to questions and comments from any senators present (note, however, that most of the senators sit on one of the committees that has already considered the bill). Senators will be permitted to offer additional amendments to SB 1714 (anything up your sleeve, Senator Latvala?).

Depending how things go during Senator Stargel’s reading on Monday, Senate President Don Gaetz could call SB 1714 for a vote by the whole Senate, either Monday or later this week. The affirmative vote of a majority of senators would mean the bill passes the Senate.

What’s Going to Happen? Don’t Freak Out

We think that Senate Bill 1714 will be passed by the Senate. It’s possible that Senate President Gaetz will delay a vote on SB 1714, but given his public support of the measure, we do not think that is likely. The late Sunday filing of Senator Stargel’s strike-all amendment makes it even more likely that a vote is coming Monday. We expect the bill to be put to a vote, and we expect that most of the Republican members of the Senate will follow the lead of Senate President Gaetz and party leadership in voting for SB 1714.

But that doesn’t make it law. To become law, the Senate-passed SB 1714 would have to be rushed over to the House of Representative, to be voted on in the remaining 4 days of its 2014 legislative session. That seems very unlikely, especially considering the support the House has already showed for its own brewery-friendly measure, House Bill 1329 (however, that bill never did get our of the House’s Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee). On the other hand, it’s possible that Senator Stargel’s last-minute amendment is aimed at making SB 1714 more palatable for the brewery-friendly crowd in the House of Representatives.

Come May 2, 2014, we still expect Florida’s 2014 legislative session to end without having passed a single beverage bill into law. Whether our prediction is right or wrong, we’ll be back next week with our final weekly update of this year’s Florida beverage bills.