State Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Atlanta, has introduced one of the most commonsensical pieces of legislation in this session of the General Assembly. Senate Bill 63 would create jobs and rectify some historic silliness in our laws.
Craft beer breweries have taken off across the Southeast, but Georgia has a three-tiered system of alcoholic beverage distribution. A brewery is not allowed to sell directly to the public. It must manufacture its beer, bottle it, contract with a distributor, sell its beer exclusively to a distributor, and the distributor then sells to restaurants and retailers. More absurd, if the beer brewer has a restaurant, like Five Seasons Brewing in Atlanta, it cannot sell its beer except in its restaurant with only minor exceptions to that policy.
In other words, if you were to go to Macon Brewing or up to Atlanta to one of the many small breweries there, tour the brewery, then sample the beer, you are prohibited by law from actually purchasing beer at the brewery to take back to Macon.
Senate Bill 63 would allow people to buy up to 144 ounces, the equivalent of a 12-pack of beer, directly from a brewery. Georgia is one of only five states in the nation that prohibits this. Georgia’s prohibition is inhibiting growth and stifling competition. It has set up an oligopoly of alcoholic beverage wholesale distributors intent on killing the legislation.
In the past year alone, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle received more than $130,000 from distributors. Roughly 20 percent of that has come from one family in charge of one distribution company that is pulling out all the stops to ensure the legislation is killed. Multiple state senators tell me Cagle is working behind the scenes to obstruct passage of the legislation.
It is not just Cagle raking in money from those opposed to the legislation. Senate Bill 63 will allegedly get a vote and hearing this coming Wednesday in the Senate’s Regulated Industries Committee. David Lucas from Middle Georgia sits on the committee. Consider, though, some of his Republican colleagues on the committee.
In the 2014 campaign cycle, Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, got $10,200 from the alcoholic beverage industry, the bulk of it from wholesalers opposed to the law. Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, got $11,354. Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, got $25,000. Sen. Steve Henson, D-Tucker, got $7,250. In fact, according to the website “Follow the Money,” every member of the committee except Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, received money from alcoholic beverage industry. David Lucas’s share was the least. He only received $1,500.
That is not to say all of them oppose the legislation. I’m told Sen. Rick Jeffares, R-McDonough, the committee’s chairman, supports the legislation. He received $4,545 from the wholesalers. Likewise. Sen. Frank Ginn, R-Danielsville, who is a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 63, received $4,750. The behind the scenes opposition, however, is enough to make anyone cynical of the process.
I am not opposed at all to money in politics. I think, whether we like it or not, money will always find its way into the process. However, I’d like to think that the money goes to candidates who already agree on your issue. Here, however, it seems the wholesalers have used campaign cash to persuade members of the state Senate to oppose common sense.
Senate Bill 63 makes economic sense and business sense. It would most assuredly create jobs and help local businesses expand. Sadly, our state politicians seem perfectly willing to throw around taxpayer cash to lure foreign businesses to Georgia, but are happy to smother home-grown businesses who can’t cough up campaign cash
Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.