What a day in the Senate.

First, I heard through the grapevine that we had a very high position on the special order calendar, which was very good news, and that turned out to be true.  We were 6th on a calendar of 61 bills.  Very good.

But the first unpleasant moment was when I heard SB132 listed in that 6th slot, when I was fully expecting to hear HB373.  The prospect of getting a Senate vote on any FTH bill was good news, but we really, really wanted HB373 to be the one so we wouldn’t have to repeat the entire process in the House.  So I was very concerned about that.

Substituting a House bill for a Senate bill in that situation is possible, but it requires unanimous consent which I assumed Hank Erwin would not grant.  I then got very excited when I heard Erwin had privately indicated he would not object to the substitution, meaning hope was renewed that we would pass our House bill today and go on to the Governor.

After a relatively short but still agonizing wait for the first 5 bills to be disposed of, our bill came up and we were promptly greeted with a promise from Erwin that he would talk “all afternoon”  in opposition to it.  A filibuster.

From there it got very confusing, even to someone like me who has listened to countless hours of legislature audio.  After some debate between our sponsor, Bobby Singleton, and Erwin, they had the vote on the BIR, which we passed.  Then Senator Ben Brooks came forward to offer an amendment that would prohibit convenience stores from selling the new over 6% beers that would be legalized by our bill.  We really don’t want any amendments on our bill, and believe it’s wrong to prohibit certain businesses from selling products that other nearby businesses can sell.  That unfairly discriminates against a certain class of small businesses.

However, some amendments would be deal breakers while others are not, and this particular amendment is not a deal breaker, even though it’s unfair.  Restaurants, bars, package stores, and grocery stores would all be unaffected and only a tiny fraction of convenience stores would have carried these beers anyway.  So our sponsor accepted the amendment.

The amendment was offered and passed.  Then, because of the threat of an all-day filibuster by Erwin, Singleton moved to carry our bill over to the call of the chair, which was allowed.

What that means is that now our bill can be brought up at any time the Senate leadership believes it’s ready to pass.  We no longer need to be on a special order calendar.   And we’ve already passed the BIR, which requires a higher threshold of 3/5 for approval.  That’s the tough vote.  Final passage only requires a simple majority.

All that is to say we passed some important procedural hurdles today that make it easier for us to pass if Erwin decides not to filibuster, or if there is a moment when he is not in the chamber and Senate leadership decides to bring up our bill.  Either is possible.

It is very important that supporters of FTH do not shower Erwin with angry phone calls or emails. While we are certainly angry about what he did today, it is crucial that we take the high road.  People will be discussing this issue with him, rest assured.  As always, people who live in his district ought to contact him in a spirit of great civility to express their support for HB373; certainly he needs to be aware of how many of his constituents support the Gourmet Beer Bill. But no one should try to address the issue of filibustering as it would only be counterproductive.

There is also the chance that our bill can be brought for a vote when he is not in the chamber.  We have options.

In summary, it was a frustrating but still productive day.  At this point we have to wait for the right moment to bring our bill back up, which depends on a couple different factors.  As soon as we know any more we’ll pass it along.