Tuesday, April 30, was by all accounts supposed to be the day for S.C.’s Pint Bill. People in the know told me it would finally hit the Senate floor for a vote, followed quickly by a second vote today and then back to the House for reconciliation. But, if you followed along with my Twitter feed or those of other breweries and individuals, you likely surmised that wasn’t going to happen.
Why didn’t the bill hit the floor? Because within the past week, three separate senators placed objections on the bill. That, in essence, moves the legislation to the back of the line so that unopposed bills can get taken care of before the Legislature gets bogged down in the budget debate. (By Senate rules, the bill becomes marked and the objecting senator must be present during debate or vote. If he or she is not present, there’s not vote.)
Early Tuesday, news broke that Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville; Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson; and Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, all opposed the bill. The response on social media was quick, and before the Senate convened at noon, Bryant and Shealy had both dropped their objections.
I’m working on a piece about the Pint Bill for Columbia’s Free Times this week, so I spent the day contacting Fair, Shealy and Bryant about their objections. Shealy emailed me back almost immediately and wrote the following:
“Although I still have concerns about this bill and the amount of alcohol that can be consumed, my first concern was the insurance regulations that were amended to this bill. I am not certain they are attainable. I am still not certain that breweries were not in a better position prior to this bill than they will be if this bill passes.”
That’s an understandable concern, and once it’s one she realized Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Summerville – the legislator who’s been leading the charge in support of the bill – would propose an alternate amendment, she removed her objection.
Bryant’s objection was much simpler: He just wanted more time to read the bill. He called me late Tuesday and said this:
“I just wanted to have more time to look at it. I had a feeling it was something I would support.”
Again, simple enough. Bryant had actually removed his objection last Thursday, April 25, but it hadn’t been removed for some reason. As a hardline Libertarian, Bryant said he felt no need to tell people how much they can and can’t drink.
But then there’s Fair, who hasn’t returned my calls or emails, or those of other people who have contacted him. Fair is apparently not budging on moral grounds – he’s been described to me as a “teetotaler” – and people close to the bill plan on trying to level with him this week.
I asked Bryant if he knew or understood why Fair objected to the bill, to which he replied:
“Often time, people take their personal opinions and impose them on the role of government. It’s not the government’s role to tell people how much they can and can’t sample at a brewery.”
Take that as you will.
So – and I feel like I’ve beaten this phrase into the ground – where to we go from here? That’s getting harder and harder to say. If Fair doesn’t remove his objection soon, the Pint Bill will have an increasingly hard time getting on the agenda. Bennett told me once the Legislature delves into budget debates, there’s little room for other things before the adjourn in June. Bennett remains cautiously optimistic about the bill’s passage, but he’s hedging his bets at this point. You should contact Fair and let him know why you object to his objection.
As many have said before – myself included – the Pint Bill is not dead yet. But if anything, it’s on its deathbed.