Re­form on Tap Act fiz­zles in An­napo­lis

Dorchester Star - - REGIONAL - By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY cconnolly@ches­

AN­NAPO­LIS — The Re­form on Tap Act died in com­mit­tee on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, and three Mid-Shore Repub­li­cans are among those who aided its demise.

House Bill 518, which would have loos­ened sev­eral re­stric­tions on the craft beer in­dus­try in Mary­land, was voted down in the Eco­nomic Mat­ters Com­mit­tee on March 16.

Dels. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Tal­bot, Chris Adams, R-37B-Wi­comico, and Steve Arentz, R-36-Queen Anne’s, were joined by a bi­par­ti­san group of com­mit­tee mem­bers — 11 Democrats and seven Repub­li­cans — who voted against HB 518 ad­vanc­ing out of com­mit­tee.

Four del­e­gates, all Democrats, voted to ad­vance the bill out of com­mit­tee for a vote on the floor of the Mary­land Gen­eral As­sem­bly.

“It was more busi­ness as usual in An­napo­lis — the cor­po­rate beer lob­by­ists did their job and got their money’s worth,” Mary­land Comptroller Pe­ter Fran­chot posted on the Re­form on Tap Task Force Face­book page.

HB 518 “would have def­i­nitely helped the small brew­eries, but it would also have hurt some of the other parts of the in­dus­try,” Mautz said. “I think we can mas­sage it a lit­tle bit ... and help the brew­eries and not do dam­age to the rest of the in­dus­try.”

The bill has been a longterm project of Fran­chot’s. He has pro­moted it on his vis­its to the East­ern Shore, and four days be­fore the vote, Fran­chot told a group of Tal­bot County lead­ers, “I just want to make sure Johnny Mautz and Chris Adams know this is not a small, lim­ited is­sue. It’s a big deal.”

The bill was based on the find­ings of the Re­form on Tap Task Force, which as­sem­bled and pub­lished re­search on the po­ten­tial eco­nomic boon of ex­pand­ing the craft beer in­dus­try in Mary­land.

“House Bill 518 (sought) to grow our craft beer in­dus­try and give our re­main­ing craft brew­ers a more com­pet­i­tive busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment by elim­i­nat­ing sev­eral of those ar­bi­trary and il­log­i­cal lim­its that un­duly hold back and limit how much they (could) grow,” said Len Foxwell of Eas­ton, Fran­chot’s chief of staff.

Among its pro­vi­sions, the bill would have re­moved all lim­its on beer pro­duc­tion, tap­room sales and take­home sales; re­pealed the “buy-back” pro­vi­sion that re­quires brew­ers to pur­chase their beer from dis­trib­u­tors at a marked-up cost if they ex­ceed the 2,000-bar­rel limit on tap­room sales; al­lowed lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions to set guide­lines for tap­room op­er­at­ing hours; and al­lowed smaller brew­ers to self-dis­trib­ute.

Mautz and Adams said, how­ever, that the om­nibus bill pack­age was too big and un­wieldy to get an up or down vote in com­mit­tee.

“The bill was a very large pol­icy change, and the comptroller de­manded dur­ing the (Feb. 23) hear­ing that we pass an un­a­mended HB 518,” Adams said. “There’s a lot that I like about the bill, but there were some things that I re­ally did not like about it.”

“I think if (we) were to break it out and look at dif­fer­ent sec­tions, we’ve got a much bet­ter chance” of pass­ing them, Mautz said.

Some re­ac­tion on so­cial me­dia was harsh. On Fran­chot’s per­sonal Face­book page, Lee Wel­don wrote, “My del­e­gate, Johnny Mautz, blew it. To­tal fail. Sad you put your cronies in Big Beer ahead of the in­ter­ests of small man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs in Cam­bridge, St. Michaels, and every other cor­ner of Mary­land. The bill should have at least made it to the floor for a full vote.”

Mautz takes the crit­i­cism of his vote in stride.

“There’s times when you’re the bad guy, and when you’re the good guy, you try to see through (the crit­i­cism) and do what’s right,” Mautz said. “I think we’re all fo­cused on ways to help brew­eries, and even though we couldn’t do it with this bill, part of the job (means) you’re crit­i­cized. But I’ve talked to all of our brew­ers and told them I want to help them.”

Foxwell said beer dis­trib­u­tors and big, na­tional brew­eries pres­sured leg­is­la­tors to main­tain the sta­tus quo.

“Why did this bill go down? Un­for­tu­nately, it was busi­ness as usual in An­napo­lis (on March 16),” Foxwell said. “The cor­po­rate beer lobby has had way too much power over the Mar yland Gen­eral As­sem­bly, and specif­i­cally over the House Eco­nomic Mat­ters Com­mit­tee, for way too long, and in this par­tic­u­lar case, they got their money’s worth.”

Adrian “Ace” Moritz and his wife Lori have owned East­ern Shore Brew­ing in St. Michaels since 2008.

Ace Moritz said “craft brew­eries in Mary­land pro­duce less than 10 per­cent of the beer sold, but they’re not go­ing to tell the big brew­eries that don’t brew here how much beer they can sell.” All the big brew­eries brew craft beers, too, he said.

“We all need rules and reg­u­la­tions to play by — you can’t make it the wild west,” Ace Moritz said. “We all un­der­stand that, but when you look at every sin­gle one of (Mary­land’s) sur­round­ing states, and what they’re do­ing to ben­e­fit the busi­ness of craft brew­ing — the amount of jobs those guys have cre­ated, the amount of brew­mas­ters who have left Mary­land and moved to (other states) — be­cause the op­por­tu­ni­ties just aren’t here.”

Foxwell said the largest craft brew­ing com­pany in the state, Fly­ing Dog Brew­ery in Fred­er­ick, “re­cently can­celled a $54 mil­lion ex­pan­sion project that would have added new jobs and tax rev­enue to the state. They can­celled it be­cause of our laws. So we are leav­ing mil­lions and mil­lions of dol­lars on the ta­ble just to sat­isfy some far­away cor­po­rate beer monopoly at the ex­pense of our lo­cal, com­mu­nity-based brew­ers.”

Fran­chot is un­fazed by the leg­is­la­tion’s set­back.

“This is merely the be­gin­ning of the fight to save Mary­land’s amaz­ing craft beer in­dus­try,” Fran­chot posted on Face­book. “I’m quite fa­mil­iar with the power the cor­po­rate beer monopoly wields in the halls of An­napo­lis, and we knew from the start that this would be a long and dif­fi­cult bat­tle.”

Leg­is­la­tors, how­ever, have de­cided Fran­chot may need re­stric­tions on his abil­ity to in­flu­ence al­co­holic bev­er­ages pol­icy. Del. Ben­jamin Kramer, D-19-Mont­gomery, in­tro­duced House Bill 1316 on Feb. 9, and the House passed it 128-10 March 19.

The bill, ti­tled “Task Force to Study State Al­co­hol Reg­u­la­tion, En­force­ment, Safety, and Pub­lic Health,” would “ex­am­ine whether the State agency that now is as­signed the tasks of reg­u­lat­ing the State al­co­holic bev­er­ages in­dus­try and en­forc­ing State al­co­holic bev­er­ages laws is the most ap­pro­pri­ate agency to en­sure the safety and wel­fare of the res­i­dents of Mary­land.”

In other words, the task force would de­ter­mine whether the comptroller’s of­fice should be in charge of al­co­hol reg­u­la­tions and en­force­ment.

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