Pint Bill passes S.C. Senate

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After finally making it to the floor of the South Carolina Senate on Tuesday for debate and a vote, the state’s Pint Bill on Wednesday finally passed the chamber with a final vote.

The bill passed its first test on the chamber on Tuesday with a 31-1 vote. Unsurprisingly, the only “nay” vote came from Sen. Mike Fair (R-Greenville). You’ll recall Fair’s objection resulted in negotiations between supports and opponents, which ended in the compromise the Senate eventually passed.

So, what’s next? The bill now goes back to the S.C. House of Representatives, which must approve the changes made from the version they originally voted on. Since there was little objection in that chamber, it’s unlikely the bill will have to jump over any more hurdles. Once the House approves it, it goes before Gov. Nikki Haley to sign into law.

The bill will likely be signed by the end of the month.

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Pint Bill passes 1st reading in Senate

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Things have been pretty quite on the Pint Bill front since a compromise was reached on May 9. But Tuesday morning, the bill finally made it to the floor of the S.C. Senate for what turned out to be a successful first vote.

By a vote of 31-1, the bill received a second reading in chamber. That next and final reading is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday. Following that vote, the bill goes back to the S.C. House of Representatives, which must – and very likely will – approve the proposed changes from the version they passed earlier this year. After that, it’s on to Gov. Nikki Haley to sign into law.

No word on how quickly the changes will go into effect if and when the bill becomes law.

Pint Bill compromise reached

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After sweating it out for the past couple of weeks, South Carolina breweries and beer geeks on Thursday finally got a compromise on the state’s Pint Bill.

You’ll recall that a couple of weeks ago, Republican Greenville Sen. Mike Fair placed on objection on the Senate’s version of the legislation at the behest of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The bill couldn’t make it to the floor of the Senate for discussion or a vote until Fair removed his objection, and since last week, Fair, MADD and representatives from the S.C. Brewers Association have been working behind the scenes to work out a compromise.

Thursday afternoon, the details of that deal were finally released. Here’s what they worked out:

  • The maximum individual on-premises consumption cap has been set at 48 ounces. That includes pints and samples. While lower than the 64 ounces originally hoped for, it still means you’ll be able to enjoy up to three pints at a brewery;
  • Brewers will be fined for over-serving patrons. This, included with the original requirement that brewery workers go through DUI and safety training means more security for visitors and non-visitors alike;
  • No beer above 10% ABW (12.5% ABV) can be served as a sample or a pint. You can still buy higher-ABV beers to take home, but you can’t drink them at the brewery.

With that compromise in place, Sen. Fair has reportedly lifted his objection, clearing the way for the bill to hit the Senate floor for a vote. When it gets there, Sen. Sean Bennett (R-Summerville) will introduce an amendment to replace the insurance requirement of $1 million per occurrence and $10 million aggregate.

No word on exactly when the bill will be hit the floor, but it’s safe to say SC beer geeks are breathing a little easier today.

Senator objections hold up Pint Bill progress

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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.

Opining on pints: My thoughts on the Pint Bill so far

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As the S.C. Senate Judiciary Committee meeting progressed yesterday afternoon, I could feel myself sinking deeper into my couch. The group of senators – who repeatedly got caught up on the term “sampling,” the ounce cap, the liability issue and more – seemed to be taking issue with the minutiae of the bill. It concerned me, and made me realize the bill wouldn’t pass through as easily as I’d hoped

Then they started landing punches. The maximum consumption amount was decreased by a pint, and then the hefty insurance requirement was imposed, and then the distinction between “samples” and “purchases” was implemented. I was shouting at my computer screen, asking why some senators couldn’t understand such simple language and applauding those who pointed out this isn’t such a complicated issue.

When all was said and done, I felt deflated. I wasn’t the only one. Twitter was chock-a-block with doomsaying, from brewers saying they wouldn’t be able to build tap rooms to consumers saying they should kill the bill at this point. In my haze of anger and confusion, I was inclined to agree that starting from scratch may be the best course of action at this point.

But then I slept on it. I was exhausted from providing the coverage that I did yesterday and answering questions, and I wanted to give my mind some time to breathe before kicking out my feelings. So, with some hindsight, here’s my concise thought on what everyone should do at this point:

Chill.

I understand the gut instinct of everyone invested in this bill is to be angry. We didn’t get what we wanted – that being the original language and intent of the bill – and we’re upset with our elected officials. I get it, but trust me, this isn’t something to rage about.

At this point in the process, the bill is written in pencil, not ink. Your elected officials are still listening to their constituents and forming a stance. It still has to go through two readings in the full Senate. It can – and very likely will – change from what it is now. The amendments made to the bill yesterday are not the final word. There’s still plenty of time to change things for the better. This is not over.

Based on traffic and comments on this site yesterday, there is clearly an impassioned group of beer geeks in this state who want to work as hard as possible to get the best legislation possible on the books. You can and should still contact your senator and let them know why this bill matters to the state, the business community and you. But just because you might be pissed doesn’t mean you should convey any anger.

What you shouldn’t do is be rude, condescending, offensive or bitter. It reflects negatively on South Carolina’s entire brewing community if you act inappropriately toward the people who ultimately have the final word on the bill. This is not the kind of community we are. Complaining to your senator or representative is not going to help this bill at all. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make your voice heard. There’s an easy tool for finding your senator here, and a full list of the S.C. Senate is here. I covered state politics for years and talked with a wealth of senators and representatives. Trust me: Even though you may not think so, your opinion and voice does matter to them.

I stand by my decision yesterday to say the bill had been “gutted” because of the changes made. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration because, to me, I feel the amendments strike right at the heart of the legislation, which is to create an easier path for breweries to dispense their product and make a living. But that doesn’t mean I’ve lost all hope for the bill or think it’s a lost cause. I’ve talked with enough people involved to know there’s constant work going on behind the scenes to get the best bill possible. Right now, people invested in the health and well-being of this legislation are busting their ass to make it as easy to digest as possible.

South Carolina beer geeks should count their blessings. We’re lucky that the Legislature is even taking time to consider such a bill. Other states have it better, but many more have it worse, and the fact this is even something up for debate should be cause for celebration. It wasn’t easy to get the Pint Bill on the radar in the first place, but brewers and beer geeks alike worked hard to show why it matters.

What good comes from giving up now?

Pint Bill gutted by Senate committee

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The S.C. Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday landed huge blows to the state’s proposed Pint Bill, imposing a hefty insurance requirement and seemingly lowering the maximum an individual can consume on site.

Senators, caught up over the term “sampling” and concerned about the liability increased alcohol consumption could cause, attached a trio of amendments to the legislation, in effect putting a bigger burden on smaller and startup breweries.

Following a 14-3 vote on S. 423 – the so-called Pint Bill – the legislation was amended to change the maximum on-premises consumption cap from 64 ounces to 48 ounces, reducing the amount an individual can drink at a given brewery by one standard pint. Included in that amendment was an additional cap on consumption of beer above 8 percent ABW, limiting higher-alcohol beers to 16 ounces. That amount is included within the overall 48-ounce cap.

An additional amendment, which passed by a 15-3 vote, apparently created two categories of beer for on-premises consumption: samples and purchases. The amount that could be purchased – and sampled on site – remained at 48 ounces. But an additional “sampling” category – which would apparently be given away for free – was also created, capping out at 16 ounces. So, while an individual could still consume 64 ounces of beer in a given day – the original limit – a maximum of 48 ounces could come from beer purchased and a maximum of 16 ounces could come from free samples.

But the KO came in the form of an amendment to require breweries to purchase not the $1 million in liability insurance in the original bill, but $1 million in insurance per person. It’s unclear how that would be assessed – say, if it were tied to maximum occupancy – but it would have to be purchased by both current and future breweries. For larger breweries, it could be less of an issue. But for smaller, startup breweries, it may be a price they just can’t pay.

The bill ultimately passed with a 17-4 vote and now goes to the full Senate with a favorable report.

So, how bad were today’s actions?

“They made a cluster of it,” a source close to the bill told me. “Mandating that amount of insurance is an impediment to small upstart breweries. … Bottom line is that they just made a mess of this bill. The insurance is a killer.”

The legislation is not dead – it still faces two votes in the full Senate and could be changed for the better – but the nuts and bolts face an uphill battle before getting to the governor’s desk.

In short, said my source, “This was not a good day for us.”

Shoddy journalism promotes ignorance, does disservice to Pint Bill’s progress

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South Carolina’s Pint Bill hasn’t gotten much attention from the mainstream media since its introduction last month. Instead, the main sources of information and education about the bill are blogs – this one included – and the social media arms of the state’s breweries. Having been a professional journalist for about five years, I can understand why that is: The bill is more or less a niche piece of legislation that affects a small segment of the population and understandably takes a backseat to other, more pressing issues. While I’d love to see more ink or airtime dedicated to educating people about the bill, I don’t fault newspapers and TV stations for focusing on other issues.

With that being the case, it’s paramount that news organizations which do decide to give the Pint Bill some time in the spotlight do one simple thing: Get it right. Give the facts as clearly and concisely as possible; be informative and direct; and don’t shortchange an issue. That’s Journalism 101, and in the case of the Pint Bill, it’s really not that hard to get all the facts out there for folks.

These are apparently foreign concepts to Kirk Brown of Anderson’s Independent Mail. This past Saturday, March 23, Brown penned a short write-up on the Pint Bill. I was excited to see the legislation finally getting a little more time in the public eye, but Brown’s story was at best a shoddy, poorly written throwaway piece, and at worst an outright ignorant misrepresentation of the bill that should have been spiked from the start.

Let’s begin with the lede paragraph on Brown’s story:

Visitors at breweries in the state would be able to sample more high-alcohol beer under a bill that the South Carolina House of Representatives approved last week.

On the surface, yes, this is true. Under HB. 3554 – and S. 423, its S.C. Senate counterpart – someone visiting one of South Carolina’s breweries would be able to sample more beer that may be high in alcohol. As I’ve detailed previously, the new legislation increases the maximum on-premises consumption amount from four 4-ounce samples to 64 ounces in total, which could be spread among samples or full pints. And yes, those full pints could be filled with higher-alcohol beers of up to 14 percent ABW (alcohol by weight). This much is true.

But from the get-go, Brown perpetuates the ignorance so many people have toward the legislation and South Carolina’s craft beer culture in general. (More on that later as well.) Why use “high-alcohol”? Having that adjective present that early in the story – and without any other description of beer –  injects a bit of bias in just the first sentence. Why not just say “beer”? Or why not mention all the low-alcohol beers people could try? Sure, I could go in and have a pint of some massive imperial stout, but I could also get pints of a session beer or, more likely, a beer with a moderate level of alcohol. Beers with an ABW of 4-8 percent are what constitute the majority of what any given brewery in this state sells, a fact Brown neglects to mention.

Of all the breweries I’ve toured – both inside and outside of South Carolina – I’ve seen one, maybe two beers with an ABW of anywhere close to 14 percent. And if someone had a sample of one of those beers, they weren’t chugging it; they were sipping it and enjoying, as one should. Immediately focusing on just “high-alcohol beers” plants a seed in the reader’s mind, and as the story progresses, more and more skewed information only serves to insult the reader’s intelligence and does nothing to further or deepen their understanding.

In fact, that fostering of ignorance is continued in the second and third paragraphs:

According to existing state law, people touring more than a dozen breweries scattered throughout the state can only have four two-ounce samples of beer with less than 8 percent alcohol content.

The bill sponsored by Rep. J. Derham Cole Jr., a Republican from Spartanburg, would allow brewery visitors to sample 64 ounces of beer with an alcohol content of up to 14 percent.

That first sentence is blatantly false and shows that Brown didn’t take time to read the law. Patrons at SC breweries can sample “no more than four brands of beer brewed at the licensed premises” per day. If a beer is above 8 percent ABW, the pour is limited to 2 ounces. Anything below 8 percent, you get 4 ounces to try. So saying “people … can only have four two-ounce samples of beer with less than 8 percent alcohol content” is flat-out wrong and again grossly misinforms the reader. Brown again focuses solely on the high-alcohol portion of the current law.

Let’s continue:

As part of floor debate on the measure Wednesday, some House members expressed concern that the higher limits in Cole’s bill could cause some brewery visitors to become intoxicated.

Rep. Rick Quinn, a Republican from Lexington, said drinking 64 ounces of beer with 14 percent alcohol would be the same as consuming 19 domestic beers.

Responding to Quinn’s comments, Democratic Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg said, “That is a pretty severe buzz.”

At this point, I began to physically bang my head on the table. Those paragraphs show the extreme ignorance and misunderstanding so much of South Carolina’s population has toward the craft beer community, and highlights precisely the mentality that needs to change in this state.

No one – NO ONE – goes to a brewery with the intended goal of getting drunk. And if they do, they’re an idiot and not someone who actually appreciates the quality and care that goes into making craft beer. It isn’t an issue now with the current cap on volume per visitor and it won’t be if the Pint Bill passes. Why? Because that is not the culture of craft beer drinkers.

We – that being craft beer fans – go to breweries to get educated on how each one does things differently. We go to see what special techniques and methods each respective brewery uses in the brewing of its beer. We go to sample new and inventive local beers and to meet like-minded individuals. We don’t go to get smashed. If we wanted to, we could go to any bar in any city in any state and do that. We go to breweries to experience, share and enjoy, not get tanked.

Let’s say the Pint Bill passes and I visit a brewery that does have a 14% ABW beer on tap. Should I choose to order that beer, it would likely be the only full pint I’d have there, and I’d spend a good bit of time drinking it. Sure, the end result could be that I might get drunk, but chances are high either I or whoever was also enjoying a beer that high in alcohol would make sure to pace ourselves and not get drunk.

(Note: Quinn’s proposed amendment – which would basically leave the current law unchanged – failed to pass by a vote of 64-49. A little too close for comfort, though.)

Brown doesn’t bother to mention the extra liability brewers and breweries will take on if the Pint Bill passes. Brewery owners know full well they’re at fault if a patron at their establishment dies or kills someone due to drunken driving, and I’d expect they’d do everything in their power to prevent that from happening. Like any good bartender, brewers know when to cut someone off when they’ve had too much and call them a cab. If anything, the new law would make brewery employees become even more vigilant and mindful of their patrons.

As I mentioned before, the biggest issue I have with this article is Brown’s perpetuation and promotion of the ignorance most people in this state have toward breweries and the state’s craft beer culture. That ignorance and misunderstanding is glaring in the comments on the story, which includes these gems:

May as well take the rest of the session off if they can’t do anything but pass bills to allow more drunks or should I say drunker people on the roads. They should be trying to get rid of alcohol and nicotine.

Should be amended to require each brewery to administer a breathalyzer to people as they leave.

South Carolina is making it harder for a person to enjoy an after dinner smoke and easer (sic) for a man to get drunk and wipe out an entire family with his car or truck. Yep, makes a lot of sense.

I can’t tell if this is wanton stupidity or just ill-informed ignorance, but it shows just how little most people know – or are willing to learn – about the culture. To them, we’re all a bunch of drunks just looking for the next opportunity to get plastered. They’re the kind of people who think alcohol in any form is evil, as is anyone who uses it. They couldn’t possibly be more wrong.

My friends who know me well know how passionate I am about craft beer. (If you’ve read this far, you probably figured as much, too.) And while they joke about it, they know I’m neither an alcoholic nor someone who drinks just so I can become intoxicated. I drink fairly regularly, and sure I have a bit too much from time to time as a lot of people do. But in those situations I know how to act responsibly and do whatever I can to keep myself and everyone else safe. I’d wager that most people who truly appreciate and respect craft beer are the same way.

But (much) more often than not, if I’m enjoying a craft beer – whether it’s sessionable or high alcohol – I’m taking time to appreciate the intricacies of it. I’m picking out the flavors the hops and malts impart, or looking for notes of something new and different. I’m taking my time, appreciating the craft and skill that goes into making whatever’s in my glass. Unlike your average frat boy slamming a case of PBR because it’s Thursday so why not, I actually respect my beer, and I’m not wasting my time drinking to get drunk.

In Brown’s defense, the piece was a quick-hit sort of tidbit that lacked the depth or detail of your average news story. Had he been given more space to work with – or should anyone else take time to write about the Pint Bill – I’d hope a more complete and thorough analysis of the law and its intent would be given. But what was published this past Saturday was pathetic, unfair and did nothing to actually educate people about the legislation. It leaves people misinformed and does a disservice to the legislation and the paper’s readers.

South Carolina lags its brother to the north in this area. In Charlotte alone, there are seven breweries and more coming online soon. And let’s not even get into how huge Asheville is for North Carolina’s beer scene, much less the culture of the Southeast – hell, the entire country – in general. North Carolinians already have the rights and privileges the Pint Bill would give to South Carolinians. And you know what? You don’t see dozens of people killed on their roadways because some idiot had too much at a brewery. They realize it’s a privilege and they don’t abuse it. I suspect South Carolinians would be the same way were they given those freedoms.

So here I am, having dedicated a couple of hours and a few thousand words to writing about some throwaway piece on some bill in the Legislature. Why waste the time and energy? Because the people who actually give a damn and know what they’re talking about are vastly outnumbered by people who just don’t care, or worse, don’t want to. This bill is about so much more than letting people drink more. It’s about supporting the smallest of small businesses in one of the country’s growing markets, and in a state that prides itself on support those small businesses and the growth of the free market. It’s about giving South Carolina breweries a chance to grow and contend is an increasingly competitive field. It’s about giving people more freedom and responsibility instead of not even giving them a chance in the first place. It’s about seeing a culture and a profession I’m deeply attached to grow and thrive, and knowing there are people in positions of power who want to see the same.

I do this because I care about informing others. That’s more than I can say for some people.