JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The long debated “beer bill” sponsored by Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, passed through the Senate by the slimmest of margins, an 18-14 roll call, just before noon Thursday.
Schmitt argued the bill would help retailers, convenience stores and grocers; many of which are small businesses; sell more beer and wine by offering coolers and increased shelf space, adding the bill has been a success for small and large brewers in states like California, Colorado and Wisconsin that are known for craft brewing.
“This would allow our small businesses to sell more product,” Schmitt said. “We are adding more options for people.”
SB 919 would also loosen restrictions on microbreweries’ ability to sell retail, add language to allow grocers and retailers to sell growlers and modify other regulations regarding alcohol, but the cooler provision was the most debated portion of the bill. Opponents of the provision argued the added shelf space would favor larger breweries over small breweries.
“Small craft brewers are going to lose recognition, shelf space, visibility and at that point it has an impact on small business,” said Sen. Mike Cunningham, R-Rogersville
Sen. Dan Brown, R-Solo, called his “no” vote “a vote to support small brewers, wineries and every brewery in Missouri that does not handle [Anheuser Busch]-Inbev products.”
On the other hand, Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said he asked those who sold beer for their thoughts on the matter and came to the conclusion it was a strong bill.
“I made a call yesterday afternoon to convenience store operators, and I wanted to know the true impact of this particular bill,” he said. “I am convinced that free and fair market competition will dictate what goes into these coolers. It is the retailers and the grocery stores that are going to determine what goes into those coolers because people demand that.”
After the dust settled, Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, cast the deciding “yes” vote, a flip from his previous stance, and after the final tally, Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, immediately called him on it.
“Which beer do you prefer? Bud, Bud Light or Bud Select?” Schaaf asked sarcastically.
Parson explained that he had “no dog in the fight” and that constituents from his district visited his office this morning to urge him to vote in favor of the bill.
The bill was largely non-partisan and earned support and dissent from both Republicans and Democrats. Sens. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis, and Sen. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis, opposed the legislation with 12 Republicans.