One more vote down, and on to the Governor’s desk: SB754 Passes The IL House
With just over a week to go before the end of the legislative session the Illinois House overwhelmingly passed SB754 112-0-3. The measure now moves to the governor’s desk.
Here’s a quick refresher on what this almost-law would do. If a production brewery wants to self-distribute they would have to get a “Craft Brewer” license. To qualify for the license they must brew less than 15,000 barrels of beer a year. If they qualify for the license they would then be able to self-distribute up to 7,500 barrels of beer a year. The language is a bit different for brewpubs, though. They would also have to meet the barrel limit requirements for the “Craft Brewer” license but they would also have to build a second production facility in order to self-distribute. The last requirement is what has caused the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, the original authors of the legislation, to remain “reluctantly opposed” to the measure. While the bill is undoubtedly great for production breweries in the state it adds an additional hurdle for brewpubs, which make up the majority of the guilds membership. The bill’s sponsor, State Representative Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley), said in committee last week and on the floor today that he does not support extending self-distribution rights to brewpubs. “I would be opposed to that,” said Mautino. “They would be operating in multiple tiers of the [three-tier] system.” Obviously this is not ideal for the 40+ brewpubs in Illinois but think of this as a foundation to build on.
While we had a rough idea where most lawmakers stood on the issue there was one in particular we were eager to hear from; State Representative John Bradley (D-Marion). If you’ll recall when we first starting writing about Save The Craft we received information from multiple sources that Bradley was going to try and push a pro Anheuser-Busch bill. Bradley, during floor debate, said he would vote for the bill (and he did) but didn’t think it would go far enough to address the court case that forced the legislature to take up this issue. “I don’t think this is going to settle the litigation,” said Bradley. “I don’t think any of us should kid ourselves about what the long term impact of this (bill) is going to be.” The lawsuit, brought on by A-B after the Illinois Liquor Control Commission kiboshed their attempt to buy out a Chicago area distributor, claimed that Illinois was discriminating against out of state breweries by not allowing them to self-distribute while the state did allow in-state breweries to do so. A federal judge agreed and ruled that no brewer in Illinois should be allowed to self-distribute, but stayed his ruling to allow the legislation to work out a compromise. Which, thankfully, they did.
So what comes next? The first hurdle is to get the governor’s signature on SB754. A spokesperson for the governor recently told the State Journal Register that he would review the bill once it reaches his desk. We’ll reach out to his office to see if we can get a more concrete answer. The second issue we are keeping a close eye on is what happens in Judge Dow’s federal courtroom this Friday. That is when A-B is set to present a motion that could drag this issue out for months if not years while the brewing giant tries to launch an appeal. The House passing SB754 and sending it to the governor’s desk could nix A-B’s motion or at least give the judge some sign that lawmakers are taking the issue seriously.
Let’s not forget that this issue was as much about preserving the rights of craft brewers in Illinois as it was keeping Anheuser-Busch from self-distributing in the state. And for those who think that brewpubs are getting a raw deal just keep in mind that nothing is every really done in Springfield. Dave Stricklin, the lobbyist for the ICBG, said last week that they intend to come back next year and try to re-work the language for brewpubs. Mautino said he expected the same during floor debate on the bill. And for you skeptics or cynics I would direct you to SB665, which passed the Illinois House moments before SB754. It increases the gallon limit on spirits that craft distillers in the state can produce. The bill tweaks a law that was passed just last year.
We have a lengthy list of people to thank for taking part in the Save The Craft effort but we’ll save that for another post – after the governor signs SB754 in to law.