During this time of year I spend almost every day down at the Gold Dome, keeping an eye on what our state legislators are doing. As a general rule, I don’t spend a lot of time writing about good things that are moving along nicely through the process or bad things that aren’t; it’s the good things that are stuck, and the bad things that are sailing along, that get most of my attention.
But I want to make an exception and note the Senate’s passage last week of a bill that I’ve written a great deal about because it’s been stuck in the past: loosening the restrictions on craft brewers selling their products on their own premises. As I’ve noted before, this was a relatively small (though potentially impactful) measure in economic terms that nonetheless exemplified the obstacles to freeing up the marketplace in Georgia — despite the professed fondness by the Republican majority for the free market.
The passage of the bill, which now goes to the House, is noteworthy on its own. But I also wanted to draw attention to something one of this issue’s champions had to say about it on the Senate floor.
Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Atlanta, sponsored the bill two years ago that kicked off this campaign. He took a lot of heat for it from Senate leaders, and it shouldn’t go unnoticed that someone else got to carry the compromise measure passed last week. His comments on the Senate floor about this year’s bill deserve to be seen and heard by everyone interested in lawmaking and policy in Georgia.
When he first brought up the idea of letting brewers sell some of their own beer on-site — rather than having to distribute everything through wholesalers under Georgia’s three-tier system — Hill said “you would have thought we were going to really blow up the system and create a lot of havoc. Fast-forward to today, and this is a good learning lesson for everybody in this room. We got a very small measure passed (then), and we got two partners together that had been opponents to sit down and craft something that was mutually beneficial.”
The lesson, he said, applies to other areas in need of reform on which there are diametrically opposed interest groups, such as education and health care. “We can make some small reforms,” he said, “that will ultimately bring people together. Let us not forget about that as we pursue reforms in other, larger parts of state government.”
Indeed, the wholesalers deserve credit for coming around to the idea that on-site sales could be good for their own businesses, by drumming up more demand and loyalty for these brewers’ products. As I wrote about North Carolina, wholesalers seem to have prospered amid a completely different brewery culture and regulatory structure. But as Hill suggested, it’s unlikely they would have been open to this kind of measure at all had there not been that initial engagement on the issue.
Let’s please see more of that in this state on those other, larger topics.