JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The “Beer Bill” moved through the House on Thursday afternoon, as an amendment on a wine bill, after some contentious debate.
While opponents argued that the bill would hurt small businesses, many of the bill’s supporters argued that through the vetting process, the bill had changed and evolved to the point where it would help craft and micro-breweries compete with the macro-brewers.
“I have had a lot of heart burn with this provision,” said Rep. Jack Bondon, R-Belton, who works for his family’s liquor store business and recused himself from voting. “But all of the sides involved have come to the table. I went to the negotiating table and we got everything we asked for.”
Among its provisions, the most contentious part of the bill would allow brewers to lease coolers to convenience stores. To limit the ability of large brewers to push out small brewers, that provision was limited to allow just one cooler per corporatation and brewers are not allowed to dictate what goes inside the coolers. A Budweiser cooler could be filled with Bud Light, a craft beer or a ham sandwich.
Several legislators were still concerned about how the bill might impact the small brewers. Rep. Keith Frederick, R-Rolla, expressed concern that the brewers ability to advertise on their coolers would push out the small brewers.
“It sure seems to me that if you have in store marketing, I worry that the little guys who can’t really afford to finance all of this will not have the in-store point-of-sale marketing,” Frederick said. “I have some small craft-brewers and micro-breweries in my district and the feedback that I’m getting is that this is not a level playing field.”
Rep. Keith English, R-Florissant, expressed similar concerns about the big brewers using the coolers as a way to push back into a market that’s seen great growth for small brewers.
“The reason why they had this bill is because they are losing market share and the only way they can get back in is to buy these coolers,” he said. “This is a horrible bill. It is not for any small business. … the only reason why we had this … is so that the big business here in downtown St. Louis can get a little bit more of their market share.”
But the bill’s proponents said the bill would allow the small brewers to have greater access to the market. Currently, with a limited amount of cooler space, most stores will stock their current space with the beers that sell best, the mass-market brews, they said. More cooler space allows small brewers to get their beer into coolers, where consumers are more likely to buy it than they would if it was kept on room temperature shelves.
“Some still do have concerns,” Bondon said about the small brewers. “The concern is the power and the might of Anheuser-Busch could put these coolers in the stores and give them an advantage. But all of the changes in the amendment make it so that they cannot use all of this cooler space for their products.”
Another provision of the bill allows convenience stores to fill growlers. While that part didn’t receive much controversy, the legislation’s handler, Rep. Robert Cornejo, R-St. Peters, said several gas stations have already built the facilities and were just waiting for the legal go-ahead. He also said the legislation could bring more jobs.
“This bill is about economic freedom,” he said. “If you vote against this, you are voting against putting people to work.”
The amendment passed 103-38. The underlying bill also passed and will head to the Senate.