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Lawmakers obtuse to reality of pro-business legislation

February 3rd, 2011

One of the hot topics around our office the last couple of weeks has been the beer bill, which was destined to die before it ever reached a floor vote.
Indeed, it died a quiet death last week, never making it out of committee.
We ran a cover story on the issue and followed it up with a money trail story that linked beer breweries to legislators.
We have written columns, blasting the lawmakers who had the opportunity to forward the debate.
Even this week, Clay Chandler has a story on page eight about a couple of Mississippi men who have started a craft beer business in Louisiana, never considering Mississippi, in part, because of our laws.
When we first started looking at this, I called a lawmaker friend of mine and asked why there is such animosity for this bill.
“You ever hear of the Bible Belt?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah.”
“That’s why,” he deadpanned as if I had asked the stupidest question ever.
That was the end of the conversation.
The legislation that died last week would raised the allowable alcohol content for beer in Mississippi from 5 percent alcohol by weight to 8 percent.
In our first story, we chatted with Sen. Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, who chairs the Finance Committee. He confirmed that the beer legislation stood zero chance of making it out of his committee, and that he wouldn’t introduce it.
“I really don’t want to put my committee members in an uncomfortable position in an election year.”
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who is the front-runner on the Republican side in this year’s race for governor, was quoted as saying he doesn’t “see a reasonable public benefit to increasing the alcohol content in Mississippi.”
We have been critical of those remarks as indifferent and submissive.
Bryant and Kirby have now put the word out that we (Mississippi Business Journal) are out to get them.
Yet, Kirby has not returned phone calls requesting comment and the only response we have ever gotten from Bryant on the issue is an e-mail that contained his previous quote.

The sticking point
OK, we aren’t asking about passing a bill on abortion or gay marriage or some other hot-button issue.
We are talking about craft beer and having the lowest ABW percentage in America. Our 5 percent ABW restricts what high-end beers can be sold in Mississsippi and what craft beers can be manufactured in Mississippi, even if they were to shipped out of state.
Yes, this is the Bible Belt, and yes, there are still 35 dry counties in Mississippi.
But, we are talking about creating jobs, and we are talking about creating more tax revenue in a time when jobs are scarce and government funds are limited, to say the least.
By the way, in addition to the fact that Mississippi is already selling and brewing beer, there are 23 towns and cities in those 35 dry counties which have chosen to sell alcohol. That means only rural pockets of few people are out there that really oppose the sale of liquor these days.
We and I aren’t “out to get” anyone.
I am concerned at how serious lawmakers can be so obtuse.
While this may not be Toyota or Nissan about to bring thousands of jobs to the state, the issue is about business.
Both Bryant and Kirby like to tout their BIPEC (Business and Industry Political Education Committee) rating as pro-business lawmakers.
Yet, when there is an opportunity help the business community, their actions fall woefully short.
What I would love is for Sen. Kirby and Lt. Gov. Bryant to come by our offices and visit, drink a cup of coffee and have an honest, thoughtful discussion on why a pro-business bill has been stiff-armed for three consecutive years.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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