Beer reform taps out as Maryland House panel rejects Franchot brewery bill
By Michael Dresser and Wesley CaseContact Reporters
The Baltimore Sun
The hopes of Maryland’s craft brewers for sweeping changes to the state’s beer laws flattened Friday like an open beer left out too long as a legislative committee rejected Comptroller Peter Franchot’s “Reform on Tap” initiative.

Unhappy with Franchot’s bold venture into policymaking, a House committee voted 17-4 against a bill the Democratic comptroller had been pushing for months as the best way to fix what he viewed as flawed beer regulations approved last year by the General Assembly.

The panel then compounded the repudiation by passing a measure seeking to examine whether the comptroller’s office should retain its role as the state’s alcohol regulator.

Franchot’s proposal sought to lift various restrictions on Maryland’s brewers, including curbs on the amount of beer they can make and sell directly to the public. While the limits rankled the state’s burgeoning craft brewing industry, other sectors of the alcoholic beverage industry defended the regulations.

Franchot issued a statement calling the rejection of Reform on Tap “more business as usual in Annapolis.”

“The corporate beer lobbyists did their job and got their money’s worth,” he said. “Our independent craft brewers ... have once again received the message that our state’s leaders are fundamentally hostile to their line of work.”

Franchot said Virginia would be “the big winner” because of the committee’s decision, predicting it would lure Maryland brewers across state lines with more favorable rules. He vowed to continue the fight in this year’s elections and next year’s legislative session.

Throughout the push, Franchot portrayed himself as the champion of the little guy against entrenched liquor interests and their General Assembly allies. Franchot’s initiative won praise from his frequent ally, Gov. Larry Hogan, but the Republican chief executive stopped short of adopting it as his own.

While Franchot’s campaign won him praise from some brewers, it did not play well with lawmakers of either party who say the comptroller not only excluded them from policymaking but insulted them along the way. The tension culminated in an hours-long, rancorous February hearing that Franchot advertised as “The Fight for Maryland Beer.”

Democrats and Republicans on the House panel were united in rejecting his recommendations.

Del. Dereck Davis, chairman of the committee, decried the acrimonious tone of the debate over the bill. “It’s been sort of like an us-against-them kind of thing,” the Prince George’s County Democrat said.