Politics

In-state brewers have a clear advantage as the legislative battle over whether out-of-state brewers can continue to own beer distributors in Kentucky nears a close.

A state Senate committee on Tuesday voted in favor of the bill, which has already passed the state House. The bill now heads to the full Senate, where Senate President Robert Stivers, a Manchester Republican, has indicated it has support.

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown, voted in favor of the bill.

“I asked myself the question what will be the best for consumers in Kentucky? And the best thing for consumers in Kentucky is competition,” Thayer said.

The bill would close what supporters call a loophole in Kentucky’s law that allows out-of-state brewers to own distributors in the state. Since prohibition, Kentucky has had a “three-tier” system in the alcohol industry, mandating separate owners of brewers, distributors and retailers. But the current law allows national brewer Anheuser-Busch to own two distributorships in the state.

Bill sponsor House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, said the bill protects the jobs of independent brewers and distributors.

“It would essentially do what the three-tiered system is designed to do, and that is to keep large entities that are producers or brewers from monopolizing the market,” Stumbo said.

Anheuser-Busch owns distributors in Louisville and Owensboro and has been a vocal opponent of the bill, saying that the legislation infringes on the company’s property rights.

“There is significant concern about properties and the role of government in forcing good companies and good corporate citizens to divest property,” Williams said during a committee hearing on Tuesday.

Williams said that the company would have to fire 200 workers at its distributors if the bill passed. Stumbo has argued that the jobs would be preserved because demand for a distributor would still exist—even if it weren’t owned by Anheuser-Busch.

“I don’t think these people can be treated like cattle that are moved from one field to the other,” Williams responded after the committee hearing. “I don’t think they should be moved at the speaker’s whim, that’s not the role of government.”

In the House, lawmakers considered adding an amendment that would allow Anheuser-Busch to continue owning its distributors, but it failed.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.