Anyone who knows South Carolina politics knows calling it a dysfunctional circus is putting things lightly. Just as we think we’ve escaped one embarrassing misstep, another rears its head, like clockwork. Heck, our disgraced former governor – you know, the one who disappeared for a few days to fly to Argentina to be with his mistress? – is within reach of being elected to the U.S. Congress again. You don’t attempt to understand South Carolina politics; you just go with it.
The state’s legislative bodies are usually no better. They’ve honed the fine art of bickering and nitpicking, and most of the time legislation that seems so easy to pass gets bogged down in the mudslinging. So it’s with that in mind it’s all the more surprising the piece of legislation allowing South Carolina breweries to serve pints on premises instead of just samples is more or less breezing through both chambers of the state’s Legislature. And if the train keeps on rolling, the bill could pass pretty soon.
The past month has been a busy one for the so-called Pint Bill, so here’s a recap of what’s been going on.
HB. 3554 – a.k.a. the Pint Bill – was introduced in the S.C. House of Representatives on Tuesday, Feb. 19. The gist of the bill is fairly simple: Passage would allow breweries across the state to serve up to 64 oz. of beer per person per day on premises. This is a big upgrade from the current law, which limits on-premise consumption to four 4-oz. samples per person per day in conjunction with a tour of the brewery.
The increase of the volume cap could be tinkered with a lot of different ways. Let’s say a brewery has 10 different beers on tap. Currently, you’d be limited to trying four of those beers in taster glasses. Under the proposed legislation, you could have a sample of every one of those beers, pick which ones you like the most and then buy a full pint of those beers until you reach 64 oz., or about four standard shaker pints.
The reason for the current cap is because of the three-tier system, which is currently in place in South Carolina. Breweries give their beers to distributors who in turn give the beer to bars and stores. Distributors weren’t too keen on the idea of consumers buying beer straight from the source instead of a bar or package store, as they wouldn’t see any profit if you go straight to the brewery for a pint. If you’ve been to North Carolina, where breweries sell straight to bars and stores, you know this isn’t an issue. So when on-premise consumption was OK’d in South Carolina a few years ago, the sample cap was put in place. But a middle ground has reportedly been reached, which is why the distributors aren’t openly arguing against the bill this time around.
The House’s version of the bill came up against little resistance, easily passing through the body’s Judiciary Subcommittee before moving on to the full Judiciary Committee and then the full House. On Thursday, March 21, the House passed its version of the bill after the required three readings. Again, there wasn’t much of a fight put up against the legislation, and a good number of state representatives jumped on board as cosponsors of the bill.
On Tuesday, Feb. 26, a week after the House’s version of the bill was introduced, S. 423 was introduced in the S.C. Senate. The legislation mirrored that of the House, again allowing the same ounce-per-day cap on consumption.
The Senate, however, is a different kind of beast from the House. As the state’s “deliberative body,” language can be changed left and right in Senate subcommittees and full committees, or bills can just be thrown out all together. (Again, SC politics at its finest.) This past Wednesday, March 20, was possibly the biggest challenge for the legislation so far as it went before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee.
The S.C. Brewers Association knew it would be a big day, and a group of brewers from across the state descended on Columbia to lobby in favor of the bill. Representatives from COAST, Holy City, Palmetto, Frothy Beard, RJ Rockers, Brewery 85, Thomas Creek, Quest and New South were all at the Statehouse to attend the hearing, and they weren’t alone. The committee room was reportedly packed to capacity with people in favor and opposed to the bill.
There were some of the usual detractors – Mothers Against Drunk Driving, etc. – but after the hearing was over, the brewers left feeling fairly positive. I had the chance to talk with the folks from Brewery 85, Thomas Creek and Quest following the hearing, and they all felt confident in the result. It was by no means a slam dunk, but the bill lived to see another day. It passed the subcommittee with a favorable report and only minor cosmetic changes.
So, what’s next? With the House’s version out of the way, all focus now turns to the Senate. Their version of the bill will have to go through the required committee hearings and readings. If anything major is changed in the legislation along the way, the chambers will have to work out a compromise. But if not, the bill goes before the governor to be signed into law. It’ll be at least two weeks before that happens as they’re now on furlough.
I regularly have people ask me if it’ll pass. My usual response: I honestly don’t know. Some people assure me that it may not be an easy ride, but chances are likely it’ll make it through relatively unscathed. Yet others tell me there’s no way it’ll pass in its current form, saying it’ll either be gutted by the Senate or die all together. Most people seem confident it’ll survive, but a growing number of people I come across – who are also as in the know as the people who think it’ll live – say its death is just a matter of time.
No one’s absolutely sure what’s to come for the legislation. You can never really be sure about these kinds of things. That’s South Carolina politics for ya.