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Beer bill put on ice in the House

A legislator puts the measure to allow more imported and micro-brewed beers on hold.

By LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Efforts to make imported and micro-brewed beer more available to Florida consumers ran into trouble Tuesday in the House.

Rep. Dave Bitner, R-Port Charlotte, sponsor of the House bill, asked members of the Regulated Industries Committee to postpone a vote on it so he can talk to more committee members.

Bitner said he believes the bill would help consumers who want imported beer that is often sold in metric sizes, now illegal in Florida.

More than 2,000 imported beers and those produced by many small brewers are excluded from sale because of a 1965 law requiring that beer be sold in 8-, 12-, 16- and 32-ounce containers.

Bitner said Ken Detzner, lobbyist for the Florida Beer Wholesalers, is telling lawmakers the bill would promote consumption of alcoholic beverages on college campuses.

"Maybe he'd like to eliminate the 32-ounce product," Bitner added.

Rep. John Morroni, R-Clearwater, committee chairman, said he is "leaning against" the beer bill because of questions raised by Detzner and others.

Morroni said wholesalers say a change in the law would force them to enlarge storage and sales facilities and pass along the price increase to consumers.

"I also think it would allow larger beer sizes on college campuses," Morroni added. "We're doing all we can to keep alcohol out of their hands."

Detzner said a study done for wholesalers indicates that the law would cause a 26 percent increase in the inventory that retail stores would have to carry and put many high-alcohol-content beers in the hands of college students.

"I'm trying to explain what we think are very important public policy issues," Detzner said. "The law has worked very well for 35 years."

Detzner pulled some of the illegally sized containers out of his briefcase as he talked with reporters.

One 22-ounce container of Rogue's Dead Guy Ale is just one of several micro-brewed beers that contains 30 to 100 percent more alcohol than most beer sold in Florida, Detzner said.

"One of these beers equals three, four or five beers in alcohol content," he added. "We think this is the wrong direction."

Under current law, Florida does not limit the alcohol content of beer.

Asked about Bitner's threat to seek the elimination of 32-ounce beers, Detzner said: "I think we have a balance that meets the needs of Florida."

A Senate bill identical to Bitner's bill was approved by a committee earlier this month and awaits action on the Senate floor.

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