Politics

Kentucky brewers have won another fight in the Frankfort beer battle: the state House voted on Tuesday to change a law that allows out-of-state brewers to own their own distributors.

The law presently allows Anheuser-Busch to own distributors in Owensboro and Louisville, which has been opposed by in-state micro-breweries.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg who sponsors the bill, said the legislation brings continuity to Kentucky’s beer industry.

“If you’re Budweiser you play by the same rules as everybody else,” Stumbo said. “That’s not the case right now. It’s different for Budweiser and that’s why it’s somewhat confusing.”

Since Prohibition, in-state brewers have not been allowed to own their own distributors. Kentucky uses a three-tier system that separates the alcohol industry into breweries, distributors and retailers.

The bill was prompted by a court decision this fall that allowed Anheuser-Busch to own the distributor in Owensboro. It has owned the Louisville distributorship since 1978.

Rep. Adam Koenig, a Republican from Erlanger, filed an amendment that would have allowed Anheuser-Busch to continue owning its present distributorships.

“Taking away someone’s business such as this is really not our role as a legislature and is just not right,” Erlanger said.

When the bill was heard in committee several representatives expressed an interested in “grandfathering in” the distributorships, however the amendment failed during a floor debate on Tuesday evening.

Anheuser-Busch said 200 workers in its distributorships will lose their jobs if the legislation becomes law. Anheuser-Busch spokesman Damon Williams condemned the bill in a statement released after the bill passed.

“We are very disappointed in the legislators who voted to jeopardize 200 Kentucky jobs,” Williams said in the statement. “We will continue to fight this legislation in the Senate, where we believe senators will see the importance of property rights, the free market, and not upending Kentucky’s successful beer distribution system for a tiny number of greedy special interests.”

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, hasn’t weighed in on the bill. The Courier-Journal reports that Senate Majority Damon Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown, was considering the legislation.

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