To give you an overview of where we are with our legislative efforts, I am pleased to present you with a combined report from the Founder, the Political Liaison and the President of Free the Hops.
Report from the Founder, Danner Kline
I sure hope the old adage holds true for us: The third time’s the charm. Those of you who have been watching our progress for a few years now know that we first introduced the Gourmet Beer Bill to the Alabama legislature in 2006. That year we never even made it out of committee in the House. A laundry list of factors was working against us that year, not the least of which was that it was an election year. We also had only a fraction of the grassroots infrastructure that we have now.
So we worked hard all through 2006 building support and raising money, bringing the Gourmet Beer Bill again in 2007 backed by a much larger base of citizen activists. But as Stuart recently explained, our efforts last year were sandbagged by a few local wholesalers of a large domestic brewery. Even in spite of their efforts to oppose us, we only narrowly missed the 3/5 supermajority resolution required to bring the bill up for a vote on the floor. The Senate held out hope for a second chance last year, but their internal power struggle that resulted in deadlock hurt us even more than the opposition from the beer wholesalers. They passed almost no bills last year, so our second chance died with their inaction (capped by The Punch seen round the world).
As you’ve all heard by now, this year we have finally passed the House. We got that 3/5 supermajority to bring the bill up for a vote and then passed the floor. This was a tremendous accomplishment. The House was always understood to be our biggest obstacle, as that body has a larger number of staunchly anti-alcohol members. Pro-alcohol bills simply have an easier time making it through the Senate. Of course, that only holds true if they are actually working and passing any bills at all. Unfortunately, the bad blood that stalled the 2007 session of the Alabama Senate has carried over to this year and they are once again deadlocked. We cannot know when to expect the Gourmet Beer Bill to come up for a vote in the Senate because we don’t know when or even if they will settle their differences and actually get to work this year.
In a nutshell, we are doing everything right and have every reason to believe we can pass the Senate this year and see the Gourmet Beer Bill signed into law… if the Senate will only do the work we are paying them for.
Report from the Political Liaison, Dan Roberts
If you listened to the highlights from the floor debate in the Alabama House of Representatives, I hope you noticed that most of the speakers who spoke in favor of our bill mentioned the phone calls and emails from their constituents. Patricia Todd of Birmingham, for example, said she received between 50 to 75 phone calls and emails in support of our bill. Our members’ efforts to speak to their elected officials do make a difference.
The fate of the Gourmet Beer Bill now rests with the Alabama Senate. This is good news. The Senate has always looked much friendlier than the House. The only concern is that politics in the Senate currently has that body moving at a slow, slow pace.
Now that it has passed the House, the Gourmet Beer Bill is seen as viable legislation that the Senate need to address before the session ends. Unfortunately, that is no guarantee that they will vote on it. Politics in the Alabama Senate can be very complicated, but basically the big drama this year rests with Senator Phil Poole. Last year, the governor vetoed a highway appropriation of $1 million that Poole had inserted into the budget. Poole attempted to have the veto overridden, but failed to garner the 2/3 majority in the House to do so.
On the last day of the session in 2007, Poole retaliated by filibustering every House bill that was sponsored by those who had sided with the governor’s veto. He continued that trend early this year, causing uproar in the already tense relations in the Senate. A few weeks ago, something of a temporary truce was declared and the Senate began passing a few noncontroversial bills that didn’t come from the House. Even still, the Senate has done little more than pass certain “sunset” bills that they are required to pass every year. The drama over Poole’s open-ended filibuster of 47 legislators’ bills is not making for a friendly work environment in Montgomery.
Still, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds. I’ve been watching Alabama politics very closely since the 2004 session. Since at least then, the Alabama Senate has waited until April or May to pass most of their bills. The reason is simple enough – politics. This year it’s Phil Poole, but it’s always something. Last year it was the operating rules approved by the majority party. Things tend to get very tense and move slowly until the final hour when they start passing around 100 bills a day. Since the Gourmet Beer Bill has been passed by the House, there is strong reason to believe that it will be considered by the full Senate before the session ends.
Right now Free the Hops is attempting to gauge our current support in the Senate so that we know which senators our members and supporters most need to contact and what specific concerns any particular senators may have with the Gourmet Beer Bill. When the time is right, we’ll update everyone.
Many are aware that the sponsor of our Homebrew Bill was recently subpoenaed in the federal investigation of the two-year college scandal. It is important to point out that Senator Rodger Smitherman has not been indicted, and early speculation by my friends in Montgomery is that he may not even be a target of the investigation. As a member of the committee that funds the two-year system and a powerful political player in the Senate, investigators may simply be seeking the senator’s cooperation. It is common for federal investigators to “cast a wide net” to gather information. If Smitherman is unavailable for any reason, someone else can present the bill.
Report from the President, Stuart Carter
As Danner and Dan have commented above, we have all had to work together to reach the point we are at now, with our bills poised on the verge of success.
When the House Bill passed, most of us in Montgomery were exultant and bouncing with joy. I, however, was also seeing the flip side of what happened. We still have work to do to educate the senators as to why we want the Gourmet Beer Bill and the Homebrew Bill to pass. Not having a date for the appearance of Gourmet Beer or Homebrew in committee is frustrating for everyone, but going by Dan’s report we can afford to relax for a couple of weeks and quietly work on what we want to say to our senators to ensure both of our bills pass the Senate.
What are the next steps?
1. The House Gourmet Beer Bill needs to appear in the Senate Committee. This same committee has already passed Senate Bill 116, which is the sister legislation to House Bill 196, so we are looking good there.
2. The Senate Homebrew Bill needs to appear in the same committee. We have no reason to believe that it will not pass out of committee, but nothing is guaranteed.
3. The Gourmet Beer Bill may need to pass the same type of supermajority as it did in the House, depending on whether or not the House and Senate have passed the budget by the time it appears for a vote.
4. The Homebrew Bill likewise may need to pass the supermajority vote, then it needs to pass in the House.
5. The Governor needs to sign them into law.
Once I have the dates for the steps above I will send out the same kind of newsletter as I did in advance of the House Bill debate.
Working together we have already proven what a potent force we are, and that we are a force to be reckoned with. And that makes me proud to be a part of Free the Hops!
If you would like to contact any of the authors of this article to discuss anything here, you may contact any of us by email: