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Hernando officials ask governor to stop beer bill

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Published:   |   Updated: April 27, 2014 at 12:08 PM

— Hernando County is hoping to attract a California-based craft beer manufacturer to the area — along with hundreds of new jobs.

But county commissioners worry a Florida Senate committee’s actions last week didn’t help their cause to lure Stone Brewing Co.

County Administrator Len Sossamon has sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott asking him to intervene.

Senate Bill 1714 would add more regulations that opponents say would benefit larger breweries and cripple smaller craft operations.

By a 9-4 vote, the Senate Rules Committee on Monday cleared a bill that was opposed by Florida’s craft brewers, dozens of whom came to Tallahassee to speak against the measure. The bill next heads to the Senate floor.

Existing law allows brewers to make and sell their own beer from tasting rooms next to their brew houses, but does not allow 64-ounce “growlers” — the glass or ceramic jugs in which craft beer often is sold after being drawn from a tap. They’re legal everywhere but here, Mississippi and Idaho.

The Senate bill legalizes 64-ounce growlers, but also requires brewers who produce more than 2,000 kegs of beer a year to sell their bottled or canned products to distributors, which they then must buy back to sell in tasting rooms.

The bill’s proponents, including sponsor Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, say it preserves the three-tier system of regulating alcoholic beverages that insulates brewers, distributors and retailers from price-fixing.

But County Commissioner Dave Russell had another word for it: “sickening.”

“This is all about big money,” Russell said at Tuesday’s county commission meeting. “Sensibility just goes out the window with this. It’s the same with red-light cameras.”

Commissioner Diane Rowden said the committee’s vote “was not a really good decision.”

Stone Brewing recently announced it is seeking a manufacturing site for its new eastern U.S. facility and sent out requests for proposals to various places in the nation. Sossamon, who is also the county’s economic development manager, responded to the company’s proposals and is touting Hernando County’s warm weather, lack of state income tax, low business costs and “pure spring water” as a natural fit for manufacturing craft beer.

Sossamon said Hernando County is vying with other states including North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.

Phase one of Stone’s expansion would include a $20 million, 120,000-square-foot facility with beer hall, indoor and outdoor beer garden and brewery. During the first year of operation, the company plans to hire 105 people.

By the end of the fifth year the company would expand its facility to 220,000 square feet and add another 300 jobs — for a total investment of $60 million.

Stone would brew 125,000 barrels of beer in its first year and 550,000 barrels in year five.

“I am respectfully asking your consideration to look into this potential problem for our cities and counties that will be competing for the location of craft breweries and wineries to the Sunshine State,” Sossamon wrote to Scott.

The county administrator asked the governor to see what can be done legislatively “to remove this burden.”

“It is definitely placing us at a real competitive disadvantage,” Sossamon wrote.

Sossamon’s response came from Renee Alsobrook, deputy director of the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, who forwarded it to the agency’s director of legislation.

Information from tbo.com was used in this report.

mbates@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5290

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