TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Senate approved a bill Tuesday that would create regulations for the state's booming craft brewing industry despite arguments that it would stifle job growth.
The bill that passed on a 30-10 vote would put restrictions on container sales at the breweries that can now sell unlimited amounts of kegs, cans and bottles of beer to visitors.
Sen. Kelli Stargel said the bill (SB 1714) is needed because craft breweries are operating under a loophole created more than 50 years ago for Busch Gardens, the Tampa theme park that began as an attraction at an Anheuser-Busch brewery.
"I'm afraid this industry is working in a lot of ambiguity, and I don't want a growing industry in the state of Florida working in an area that is not clear," said Stargel, R-Lakeland. "We're clarifying the law so what they're doing today, they're going to be able to continue to do."
The number of craft breweries in Florida has grown from six in 2007 to nearly 90 expected to be open by the end of the year. The idea of regulating them stemmed from a simple idea of allowing them to fill half-gallon refillable beer containers known as growlers. While Florida allows unlimited gallon and quart growler sales, the state's odd bottle laws ban the 64-ounce size that is the industry standard in 47 states. The bill would legalize that container.
But Anheuser-Busch InBev distributors have opposed allowing half-gallon growlers unless more regulation is placed on the craft beer industry. Senate President Don Gaetz has sided with the Budweiser distributors, citing his friendship with Lewis Bear, a big GOP political donor who owns an Anheuser-Busch InBev distributorship in the Panhandle.
Sen. Jack Latvala, who has fought for a bill that simply legalizes the half-gallon growler with no strings attached, criticized the bill. He said it is an attack on craft breweries in an effort to protect distributors.