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House panel okays beer bill

A procedural move by House Speaker John Thrasher ensures that the measure advances.

By WILLIAM YARDLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Beer drinkers and beer distributors -- folks presumably made for each other -- were on opposite sides of a tense debate Monday over whether Florida should open its beer market to brews bottled in all shapes and sizes.

The battle, won by a single vote, was over a bill that would eliminate decades-old state restrictions limiting sales of beer to containers of 8, 12, 16 or 32 ounces. To ensure the bill's passage out of the House Committee on Regulated Services, Republican House Speaker John Thrasher asked Rep. Dennis Jones, a Republican from Seminole and the House speaker pro tem, to serve as an "ex-officio" member of the committee for the day.

Asked later about the procedural move, the bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon, said, "The Lord works in mysterious ways." Thrasher spokeswoman Katie Baur said Thrasher made the move because "the speaker felt there was some merit to the bill and it deserved more discussion."

The bill was discussed for nearly two hours in the committee Monday, with its supporters and opponents taking innovative approaches.

There was Ken Detzner, director of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, arguing in the name of temperance to keep current state restrictions.

Detzner said beers that come in odd sizes, often microbrews and imported beers, could confuse consumers because they sometimes have unexpectedly higher alcohol content.

"This bill is anti-consumer," Detzner said.

Then there was Dave Galloway, a beer drinker who testified before the committee, telling the lawmakers that he was one consumer who preferred freedom of choice: "I know when to say when."

Lee says he is sponsoring the bill to correct a philosophical wrong that occurred in the 1960s, when state regulators, reportedly under pressure from another major brewery, blocked the sale of a new 7-ounce bottle promoted by Miller Brewing Co.

A staff analysis of the bill says Floridians have access to 772 brands of beer, while nearly 4,300 brands are available nationwide. A handful of other states have restrictions similar to Florida's.

The bill was nearly killed by Democrats looking for revenge after losing so many battles with the Republican-controlled House this session.

A similar version of the bill has passed out of Senate committees and awaits floor action.

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