Save The Craft: Connecting The Dots UPDATED

In Beer Politics by Ryan

What started as a somewhat promising week in the Illinois legislature ended with a disappointing fizzle. A new senate bill was introduced, amended and cleared committee but was stalled on the Senate floor. The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild was against it while the Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois were in favor of it. We’ve previously broken down why these two sides took their stances, as well as where others stood, so now lets look at what has taken place and where this legislation, and the future of craft beer in Illinois, is headed.

Despite talk that SB754 had enough support to pass the Illinois Senate, the bill was not called for a vote. Senators are now on “spring break” for two weeks, due to return to Springfield on May 3rd. The Senate sponsor, Donne Trotter (D-Chicago) decided to put the bill on hold to try and get back to the negotiating table with Anheuser-Busch. It is public knowledge that A-B is trying to kill this bill and had the same intentions towards HB205 and SB88 when they were introduced. In fact, A-B has said they want the federal court to decide this issue and not the Illinois legislature. If the legislature does not reach a compromise on the issue of self-distribution, and Judge Robert Dow Jr does not issue another stay on his decision, then the ball will be in his court to ultimately decide the fate of Big Muddy Brewing, Argus Brewery, and future craft brewers in the state. In his decision, issued on September 3rd, 2010 Judge Dow gave us a look at where the court stands (emphasis added).

“In regard to the remedy that follows from the Court’s Commerce Clause ruling, the parties and amici agree that the Court, in the exercise of its discretion, must choose one of two alternatives: either “extension” or “nullification” of the unconstitutional in-state benefit. In the particular circumstances of this case, the Court concludes that “nullification” – that is, withdrawing self-distribution privileges from in-state brewers rather than extending those privileges to out-of-state brewers – does the “minimum damage” to the legislative and regulatory scheme under the Illinois Liquor Control Act, and thus is the appropriate remedy. Finally, because the Court’s choice of remedy rests on judgments as to the intent of the Illinois General Assembly and implicates matters of public policy as to which the General Assembly is the ultimate arbiter, the Court temporarily stays enforcement of its ruling to provide the General Assembly an opportunity to act definitively on this matter if it chooses to do so.

Rich Miller, who writes the Capitol Fax Blog, also had this little tidbit in his weekly newspaper column:

“If a bill passed that excluded Anheuser-Busch, the company would have a tougher time explaining to an appellate court that state laws are vague enough to grant its requests. A successful appeal could open up the distributor game to the company, which would result in a huge increase in profits by cutting out the middlemen. We’re talking high-stakes and big money here.”

So let’s see if we can piece together this puzzle. Anheuser-Busch intends to do everything in its power, evident by employing now thirteen fourteen lobbyists, to stop any bill extending self-distribution rights to craft brewers and brewpubs and wants to to take its chances in federal court. The court’s initial remedy was to take away the self-distribution rights of current and future breweries in Illinois. State Senator Donne Trotter, the sponsor of legislation continuing the rights of breweries in Illinois to self-distribute and extending the same rights to brewpubs, wants to go back and talk with Anheuser-Busch.

So we know A-B’s end game but why does it appear that Sen. Trotter is playing in to it?

We’d tell you it was all about money, but Sen. Trotter has only received $2,000 in campaign contributions from A-B and that was in 2008.  The Illinois Democratic Senate Victory Fund, which doles out money to democratic candidates running for Senate, on the other hand did receive $28,500 from A-B in the 2010 election cycle.  As a whole A-B gave  $215,203 to candidates in 2010, $171,703 of that went to Democratic candidates.  The party happens to control the Illinois House, Senate and hold the governor’s office.

At this point we have no idea what happens next.  Will Sen. Trotter continue to delay a vote on SB754?  Will a new sponsor step up with legislation that both the beer distributors and the craft brewers guild can agree on?  Will the House try and push something through while the Senate is on spring break next week?

The only thing we do know for sure is that some legislation must to be passed before May 31st to Save The Craft and protect the rights of current and future craft brewers in Illinois.

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About the Author



Equal parts beer nerd and policy geek, Ryan is now the curator of the Guys Drinking Beer cellar. The skills he once used to dig through the annals of state government as a political reporter are now put to use offering unique takes on barrel-aged stouts, years-old barleywines and 10 + year verticals.

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