A Florida state senator who has recently received thousands of dollars in donations from large beer distribution companies is proposing limitations on smaller craft breweries.
“I have five kids and unfortunately I feel like I’m being a parent in this process,” said Republican State Sen. Kelli Stargel on the senate floor on Tuesday.
Stargel is the sponsor of Senate Bill 1714 which passed in a 30-10 vote after senate debate.
The bill forces breweries that make more than 2,000 kegs of beer a year to sell to distributors – companies like beer giant Anheuser-Busch – which then sell it back to craft breweries for consumption in their own tasting rooms.
Records show that Stargel has received a $5,500 in campaign contributions from numerous large beer distributors since 2013. Anheuser-Busch, Miller-Coors, Pepin Distributing Co., and others have donated to Stargel in that period, with more donations from “Big Beer” stretching back to 2008.
The lawmaker tweaked her bill Monday, allowing breweries to sell 20 percent of their inventory above the 2,000 keg limit on-site.
Stargel says that small breweries have been exploiting a loophole carved out for Busch Gardens 50 years ago and that the new law will provide “certainty in the law to do what they are doing.”
“I know they don’t believe it,” continued Stargel on Tuesday. “And I’m sorry, I know my kids don’t believe it when I tell them they can’t do something, but sometimes I know it is what’s best.”
Opponents of the bill argue that the state’s growing craft beer industry will be stifled by the proposal. In 2007, Florida had six craft breweries. By 2013, the state has 50 with another 28 in the works, said Republican Sen. Jack Latvala in the senate debate.
“This is what this bill aims to stifle,” said Latvala who pointed out that the industry generated $69 million in 2012.
By going through a middleman, the price of the drinks will be marked up by 30 to 40 percent, a prohibitive increase for some small brewers.
Included in SB 1714 is a measure that craft breweries have actually supported. Florida breweries have long fought to allow 64-ounce growlers – glass or ceramic jugs that are popular in the craft beer industry.
Under current Florida law, only containers 32-ounces and less or 128-ounces or more are allowed to be sold. Florida is unusual in this regard. Forty-seven states allow the sale of 64-ounce growlers.
Latvala proposed a bill last year to “just simply use a 64-ounce container to put beer in,” but it was blocked by Florida senate president Don Gaetz, another Big Beer-backed senator.
“I’m with the beer distributors in my district,” Gaetz told the Associated Press recently when asked about growlers. “One of my very best friends is an Anheuser-Busch distributor and he never talks to me about his business.”
“It’s always about what are we going to do for disabled children, what are we going to do for the arts, what are we going to do for economic development. But this time he’s talking about growlers.”
Gaetz’s friend is Lewis Bear, whose family-named company touts itself as Florida’s oldest Anheuser-Busch distributor. Campaign donation records show that since 2005 Gaetz has received at least $12,600 in campaign donations from at least 20 companies, individuals, or organizations associated with beer distribution.
This includes Anheuser-Busch, the National Beer Wholesalers Association and Southern Wine & Spirits of America, the largest wine and spirits distributor in the U.S.
Jen Gratz, who owns Fort Myers Brewing Co. with her husband, is critical of SB 1714 and what she sees as Stargel’s paternalistic stance.
“It’s cronyism at its absolute worst,” Gratz told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“Our small business doesn’t need another parental figure, we simply need sensible regulations and then we need the government to get out of our way,” said Gratz, who brews around 3,000 barrels – or around 6,000 kegs – annually in 40 different flavors.
“Unfortunately, Sen. Stargel’s bill introduces non-sensical, burdensome regulations,” Gratz continued.
“The only industry cheering today is the distributors for Anheuser-Busch and that speaks at volumes much greater than 2,000 kegs.”
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