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Beer law reform picks up powerful GOP bill author

February 8th, 2012 No comments

In this week’s MBJ I had a story about the beer legislation that has tried and failed the past few legislative sessions. You can read all about it here  (subscriber link).

Bills that would raise the state’s alcohol-by-weight content from 5 percent (lowest in the U.S.) to 8 percent have died in committee at least the last two sessions, as have bills that would allow the state’s only brewery to offer samples of its product to those taking tours of its facility. Bills that would have legalized homebrewing and allowed a brewery to brew illegal beer as long as it’s shipped and sold out of state have also perished. (It’s worth noting that the fact homebrewing is illegal has done nothing to stunt its popularity here).

After my deadline last week, though, came a bill in the Senate authored by Senate President Pro-Tem Terry Brown, R-Columbus, that would legalize homebrewing. Like Rep. Jessica Upshaw, R-Diamondhead, who has introduced beer legislation in the House, Brown’s filing a similar bill is significant.

Because while the bills have enjoyed a modicum of bipartisan support in the past, I can’t remember the GOP jumping on the bill-filing train before now. They may have; I just haven’t confirmed as much. Democrats have traditionally filed and supported the bills the loudest. The committees the bills died in were split among which party controlled them. The GOP now controls the House committee (Ways and Means) and the Senate committee (Finance) in which these bills currently sit.

And that was the gist of this week’s story: Longtime supporters of the beer agenda are more optimistic the legislation’s chances of passage are greater this time, if only because it’s likely lawmakers won’t have to face re-election in November. They may have to if the redistricting process gets squirrely, but it’s unlikely. Election-year politics killed the bills before they were even filed last year.

While it would legalize homebrewing, Brown’s bill does have some limits on the amount one household can brew per year: If there’s only one person over the age of 21 years residing in a single household, that house can brew no more than 100 gallons of beer annually. If there are two or more folks over 21 in one house, that limit rises to 200 gallons per year. The bill would outlaw homebrew being sold, but it would allow it to be exhibited at competitions, tastings, county fairs, etc.

Behind Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Brown is the Senate’s second-most powerful member. So it’s not insignificant that he’s filed this legislation. Upshaw and other Republican supporters of the beer bills have made it into an economic issue by tying it to tourism. How beer legislation in both chambers is handled in committee will be interesting.