‘Beer Bill’ passes state Senate, heads to governor’s desk

Senate roll call vote on HB 168

Senate roll call vote on HB 168

Kentucky’s state Senate today approved HB 168 — the so-called “Beer Bill” — in a bipartisan 23-13 vote. After a month of heavy industry lobbying on the issue, the bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Steve Beshear.

Following the vote, Beshear’s spokesperson indicated that he will sign the legislation into law.

“This system was designed to protect consumers as well as small producers like new breweries,” Beshear said in a statement. “This aligns the rules for beer with rules for other alcoholic beverages, so everyone is on a level playing field.”

The legislation is designed to strengthen the state’s three-tier system of beer suppliers, distributors and retailers, ensuring no company can have a license in more than one of those tiers.

In an effort to defeat the bill, Belgium-based A-B InBev launched TV ads and employed 13 lobbyists in Frankfort over the past two months, arguing that the legislation would infringe on their property rights by forcing them to sell distributorships in Louisville and Owensboro. They also said it would result in 175 jobs being lost.

Supporters say the bill would prevent A-B InBev from creating a virtual distribution monopoly in the state, pushing smaller craft brewers out of the market.

The partisan, ideological and regional split on the bill continued to create strange bedfellows among both supporters and opponents. The four Democrats who voted against the bill were from Louisville, where the local Teamsters union lobbied heavily against it, arguing it would endanger the jobs of their distributorship members. (Louisville Sen. Gerald Neal voted for it.) HB 168 supporters said that those jobs are likely to remain after A-B InBev sells its distributorships.

Republicans were evenly split on the bill as well. Some agreed with A-B InBev that it was big government overreach and a property rights issue. Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, gave an impassioned speech on the Senate floor in favor of strict government regulation of the private businesses — a rare occurrence for him — while noting that the craft brewers at Country Boy Brewing, one of whom testified before a Senate committee yesterday, are his constituents.