Last Friday, Comptroller Peter Franchot’s bill to loosen regulations on the state’s craft brewers, the Reform on Tap Act, failed to escape the House Committee on Economic Matters. And it wasn’t close, with the vote going 17-4 against.
But the committee did pass another measure establishing a task force to see if the comptroller’s office should maintain oversight of the state’s alcohol industry. The House of Delegates passed that bill yesterday by a vote of 128-10.
Even so, Franchot has vowed to fight on. In his statement condemning the committee’s vote as “business as usual in Annapolis,” Franchot pledged to make beer reform an issue during the upcoming election.
“I look forward to taking this issue into every contested primary and general election in our state this year – into every county, district and precinct,” he wrote. “And I look forward to coming back to Annapolis in 2019 and making the case for good beer, good jobs and good times in the State we love.”
He renewed that pledge in response to the passage of the bill that would examine his office’s role.
“I welcome this – well, whatever this thing is,” he wrote. “Because I look forward to talking, in an election year, about the dominant role that corporate beer money plays in a state where the distributors are literally empowered to handpick their government regulators.”
The Reform on Tap Task Force, which Franchot convened before authoring legislation, is holding a March 22 happy hour in Prince Frederick to tell people about “the next round in the fight to save Maryland craft beer.”
In perhaps the most provocative push back, Franchot on St. Patrick’s Day pointed to a lawsuit in North Carolina brought by brewers that challenges the constitutionality of the state’s distribution system and franchise laws. He said he is watching the case “very closely.”
“[O]ur General Assembly voted yesterday to reinforce this whole, rancid system – franchise laws that handcuff brewers to bad distributors, artificial limits on how much a brewer can produce, distribute and sell, and even the infamous ‘buy back’ provision,” he wrote. “Again, this case could prove interesting.”