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State legislators claim constituents want looser alcohol laws, moving billscomment (0)

April 28, 2011

By Sondra Washington

Life is different at the Alabama Statehouse this year. Pro-gambling bills, which consumed a large part of the 2010 legislative session, are not even on the radar, and pro-life bills are getting a fair hearing for the first time in years.

Yet some old habits seem to die hard even with a Republican-run session and promises of morally sound legislation.

Joe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program, said things have changed “dramatically” at the Statehouse except when it comes to pro-alcohol bills.

“Legislators who ran as family values-oriented candidates do not seem to recognize the connection between alcohol and the destruction of individual lives and the breakup of homes and families,” he said. “Almost every alcohol expansion bill has sailed through various committees and/or the two chambers (of the Legislature). When we talk with legislators about the negative aspects of alcohol, they argue that ‘It’s good for business’ or ‘My constituents are wanting this.’”

Some of the pro-alcohol bills Godfrey calls the most “dangerous” include
• House Bill (HB) 408, sponsored by Rep. Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham, which would increase the maximum size of beer containers from 16 ounces to 25.4 ounces, not including draft or keg beer.

Godfrey said this bill would allow people to get drunk in less time and with less drinks, which could lead to more social problems.

• HB 136, sponsored by Rep. Mike Ball, R-Huntsville, which seeks to let businesses in state parks located in wet counties and municipalities sell alcoholic beverages on Sundays if approved by voters.

“State parks should be for enjoyment of families and alcoholic beverages are ‘anti-family,’” Godfrey said.

• HB 86, sponsored by Rep. Joe Hubbard, D-Montgomery, and co-sponsored by Rep. Barry Mask, R-Wetumpka, which is being called the “Brewpub Bill.” Along with its companion bill, Senate Bill (SB) 192, sponsored by Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, it seeks to allow brewpubs where alcoholic beverages are brewed to sell their products to wholesalers instead of limiting sales to on-site consumers. It also would change the requirement that brewpubs must contain and operate a restaurant.

Holtzclaw is co-sponsoring the Senate bill with Sens. Del Marsh, R-Anniston; Tom Whatley, R-Auburn; Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro; Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham; and Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville.

Godfrey said the bill would allow brewpubs in any wet county or municipality.

“Currently they can only establish a brewpub in historical districts, which limits them to larger cities,” he said. “This bill also would allow brewpubs to bottle/can their beer and sell it to wholesalers where it can be marketed in grocery stores and convenience stores.”

• HB 266, sponsored by Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Capshaw, which is called the “Homebrew Bill.” It would allow adults to homebrew “beer, mead, cider and wine in limited amounts for personal use” without “payments of taxes or fees and without obtaining a license.”

Co-sponsors of this bill are Reps. Mask; Ball; Hubbard; Jamie Ison, R-Mobile; Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham; Phil Williams, R-Huntsville; Alan Boothe, R-Troy; Chad Fincher, R-Semmes; Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro; Joe Faust, R-Fairhope; James Buskey, D-Mobile; Laura Hall, D-Huntsville; Dexter Grimsley, D-Newville; Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay; K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville; Elaine Beech, D-Chatom; Jim Patterson, R-Meridianville; Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville; Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva; Wayne Johnson, R-Ryland; Greg Canfield, R-Vestavia Hills; and Rod Scott, D-Fairfield.

Godfrey said this bill would allow adults to brew up to 100 gallons per year per household and transport up to 10 gallons for tasting events and competitions. He believes a law like this could not be regulated. “People used to call this ‘bootlegging,’ and now there is a group that wants to legalize it.”

• SB 345, sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, which would expand the definition of community development districts to include private resort developments and allow them to sell alcoholic beverages within dry counties, according to Godfrey.

“This is an attempt to circumvent the will of the people,” he said. “If the citizens of a dry county vote to stay dry and some ‘community developer’ comes in and wants to sell alcoholic beverages, this bill says he/she can do so in spite of what the citizens of the county say.”

• HB 281, sponsored by Rep. Bill Roberts, R-Jasper, which would allow wet/dry votes to be scheduled at any time instead of at general elections only.

Godfrey is encouraging Alabama Baptists to ask their state senators and representatives to “stop passing all of the alcohol expansion bills now moving through the state Legislature.”

To contact your senator, call 334-242-7800. To contact your representative, call 334-242-7600.

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