By Walter C. Jones
Morris News Service
ATLANTA - A committee met Wednesday to begin updating the state’s laws dealing with alcohol production, sales and consumption in an effort to simplify commerce, but some in the industry hope it will go further.“We just want to make it easier on people,” said Rep. Howard Maxwell, the temporary committee’s chairman and the head of the House Regulated Industries Committee that deals with alcohol issues.
For example, the definition for a case of packaged bottles or cans isn’t clearly spelled out, and the required licensing fees are listed in a handful of sections. Growlers, which are 1-liter bottles that customers bring from home for filling, aren’t mentioned at all in the law, even though the Department of Revenue regulates them.
It’s a process that lawmakers call housekeeping.
Maxwell, a Republican from Dallas, wants the committee to shy away from heavy-duty policymaking. Still, he said, there are groups that want to make major changes, such as the craft brewing and distilling industry, which has recently developed in Georgia.
The micro-distillers and brewers want to be able to sell directly to customers who visit their facilities, as vineyards do. Customers are most interested in taking a few bottles or a case home with them just after they have seen the making, met the craftsmen and heard the story of the unique ingredients. The buying urge fades when they have to leave to find a package store.
But Georgia operates under a three-tier system of distribution that evolved in the aftermath of Prohibition in which the producers can sell only to wholesalers who can sell only to retailers.
“Everyone is all torn up about ‘three tiers’ and want to start tearing up stuff and … changing policy and all,” Maxwell told the lobbyists assembled Wednesday. “I said we’re not here to do that.”
Many of the lobbyists were happy with limiting things to housekeeping, including Stony McGill, of the Georgia Alcohol Dealers Association – store owners not wanting to compete for direct sales with producers.
“The goal is to wordsmith the code section to make it where everything is consistent,” McGill said. “I don’t think there’s any change in policy coming from this.”
Karen Bremer, a lobbyist for the Georgia Restaurant Association, says there is plenty of confusion to be resolved. Local governments apply the law differently in different parts of the state, she said, and that can complicate matters for restaurant chains.
“I think it makes it harder for people to expand their business,” she said.
Maxwell said the micro-brewers and distillers are eager for change, however. Last year, they pushed through a provision that allows them to give visitors a single, half-ounce sample.
It was a victory they hope to build on in the next legislative session.
Maxwell anticipates holding them off at least to clean up the existing problems in the law.
“I hope we can keep the cats corralled long enough to get that done,” he said.