Two Tampa Bay lawmakers on Tuesday announced bills in the State House and Senate that would allow craft breweries to sell 64-ounce growlers, something that, stupefyingly enough, isn't legal right now.
In the crowded, lofty tasting room at Dunedin Brewery, State Senator Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) and State Rep. Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) stood among dozens of craft brewing industry leaders and beer enthusiasts and assured them they'll do what they can to make sure the bill passes. The bill was introduced during the past two legislative sessions, but obviously didn't make it far either year. Last year, large-scale beer distributors even championed a bill that would have further hurt the industry by forcing brewers to go through a distributor — even to sell at their own tasting rooms — if they produced a high enough volume of beer annually.
Latavala said such restrictions make no sense; especially the growlers.
“I don't think there is a reason in the world why Florida should be one of two states in this entire country that doesn't allow 64-ounce growlers, other than protectionism; protecting monopolies in the distributor world," he said. "I just don't think there's a reason that justifies it.”
Oh, by the way, the other state that doesn't allow 64-ounce growlers, or the equivalent of a round of pints for you and three of your mates?
That's right, Utah, the Mormon hub where grocery and convenience stores can't sell any beer containing more than 3.2 percent alcohol by volume.
State law also requires bartenders to pour and mix your drinks behind a partition (seriously. It's called the Zion curtain).
Here in Florida, where there are tons of craft breweries, you can only buy refillable growlers in two sizes — 32 ounces and gallon jugs. But not 64-ounce ones, which are, again, the equivalent of four pints of beer.
The state is currently defending the growler ban against a lawsuit filed by a Stuart craft brewer claiming the state's restriction on beer containers between 32 ounces and a gallon is arbitrary and unconstitutional. Among the Attorney General's defense of the ban in that case:
"It is submitted it cannot be considered irrational that, if individuals may buy beer in bottles or jugs of over 32 ounces, but less than one gallon, they may assume that it is reasonable for an individual to drink such bottles or jugs...they could honestly say, if asked by a spouse, friend or police officer about their drinking, that they had only had, 'one beer'." [sic]
If the bill - the Senate version of which is S.B. 186 - passes, it would make that case moot, said Ross Appel, a South Florida lawyer who represents craft brewers and blogs extensively on their fight against stifling regulations.
In addition to the law being mindbogglingly arbitrary, Latvala said, it's also stifling economic development for one of the few industries that's made it out of the recession not only intact, but thriving. He cited a University of Florida study pointing to the industry's growth and increased economic benefits for the state over a single year between 2012 and 2013, after craft beer really began to take off in Florida.
Among them? The industry's revenue went from $301 million to $432 million, from 2793 full and part-time jobs to over 4000 of them and from $53 million in local and state tax revenue to $78.5 million.
It's also an issue that has caught fire in the public sphere. Latvala said he got more calls on that issue than anything else, including a controversial bill he championed that granted in-state tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants.
Sprowls, who got elected to his House District 65 seat this past November, said it was practically all he heard about when he was knocking on voter doors while on the campaign trail.
“You expect them to bring up things like homeowner's insurance," Sprowls said. "Flood insurance. Energy. Those are things you expect at the door. What you don't expect is how many people, when you knock on their door, they say, 'well what are you going to do about the 64-ounce growler?' But I can't tell you how many times that it's happened.”
Latvala introduced his bill Tuesday, and said to expect Sprowls' House companion soon.
Obviously, filing a bill, even if it has support in both chambers, doesn't guarantee it will make it out alive. But the two said they're confident it'll get enough support from their colleagues and will survive the governor's veto pen. The bill has such vocal champions from all points of the political spectrum, Latvala said, that it ought to be a no-brainer for anyone who would like to be elected again.
“I think the critical mass of the publicity that this has seen and the input from voters," he said. "We're all politicians. And to be successful politicians we need to be capable of listening to the people that elect us.”
Michael Bryant, president of the Dunedin Brewery, says his brewery produces about 1,700 barrels a year, or 3,400 kegs. Because of the state's restrictions on what brewers can sell off-site, Dunedin Brewery sells about three-quarters of its product on-site. It used to be the inverse of that, he said, but recent regulations changed what facilities like his are allowed to distribute on site and off-site.
"I see it as the step of legislators understanding and getting into today," he said. "We're not in today. We're in 1957. They're listening to lobbyists who don't know anything about manufacturing."