HB 391: Bigger beer bill circles drain in Ohio Legislature

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A group of Greater Cincinnati lawmakers are backing
a plan that would increase the alcohol allowed in Ohio beer but it
needs help to stay alive.

Ohio House Bill 391 would increase the permitted alcohol limit in beer
sold in Ohio to 21 percent ABV from the current 12 percent.

The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Dan Ramos (D-Lorain) said the current
law limits the growth of the Buckeye State’s beer industry.

Several local representatives have signed on to co-sponsor the bill.
That group includes state Reps. Denise Driehaus, Alicia Reece, John
Becker and Louis Blessing III.

The bill would allow Ohio brewers to begin making the stronger beers
after the bill takes effect, then open Ohio to sales and distribution
one year later.

It would also ban the addition of caffeine and other stimulants in
beer containing more than 12 percent ABV. The Stow Sentry said the
state's Legislative Service Commission includes "guarana, ginseng and
taurine" among prohibited stimulants but not beer with "incidental
amounts of caffeine from chocolate, coffee or tea."

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Find out What's Brewing in Cincinnati

Ramos originally introduced the legislation in December 2013 but it
has languished in committee since then. He has worked on similar
legislation in the past.

Driehaus (D-Cincinnati) said she has talked with all of Cincinnati’s
brewers and that they support the bill.

“I view it as an economic development bill,” Driehaus said. “It was an
easy thing for me to support.”

The representative said many of the brewers would like to brew above
the current ABV. She said it is frustrating to see the brewers have to
sell the beer outside of the state to be in accordance with the law.

"It’s hurting the craft beer industry in Ohio." -- Rep. Louis Blessing
III (R-Cincinnati)

“Many of us believe it’s a way to promote economic development and
business in our district. What’s happening right now with some of
these breweries, the beer can go over the limit by accident and
because of our laws they aren’t allowed to sell it. That forces them
to sell the beer in other states instead of our own,” Driehaus said.

Blessing, (R-Cincinnati,) echoes her statements and that the law can
be a big impediment for small, independently owned operations.

“Another issue is that if you have a batch of beer that is just above
the level, they might have to throw that whole batch. That’s a big
deal for a small brewer. The 21 percent level is also in line with
what groceries can sell without a liquor license,” Blessing said.

The legislators said if the bill doesn’t make it off the floor and
over to the Senate by the end of the week, it will likely have to be
reintroduced in the next legislative session.

However, it could also be added as an amendment to a bill that is
likely to get passed. Driehaus said the Policy and Legislative
Oversight Committee has only heard the bill once so far.

The current version of the bill has 20 co-sponsors from both parties.

“I don’t believe it’s going to move in this general assembly. It would
need another hearing to get it out of the House,” Blessing said.

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Despite that, Blessing said he is supportive of the measure and would
like to see it reintroduced. The Ohio Legislature has until Dec. 18 to
conduct its business during the current lame duck session.

“I’m a craft beer fan myself. There are just numerous beers above that
threshold. It’s hurting the craft beer industry in Ohio,” Blessing
said.

The representative said Ramos has showed in the past that the law
played a factor in Stone Brewing Company’s decision to pass on Ohio
for its new East Coast facility. Instead, the major craft brewer chose
Richmond, Va.

Blessing said politics and generational differences could be to blame
for the bill’s lack of progress. He said some constituents and
legislators who are older and aren’t familiar with craft beer haven’t
seen the value in the change yet.

The looming deadline for legislators to get their work done before the
holidays is also a factor.

“It was an easy thing for me to support." -- Rep. Denise Driehaus
(D-Cincinnati)

“Unfortunately this bill has just fallen by the wayside,” Blessing
said. “I think it will happen ultimately. In the end, we all want to
see this. I’ll have to look into the possibility of joint-sponsoring
the bill in the next session.”

Ramos’ office said there are fewer than 10 states that limit ABV. The
state last raised the ABV cap in 2002 from 6 percent to 12 percent.

Earlier, Ramos issued a statement saying, “With other higher-proof
options already available on Ohio’s store shelves, often at a cheaper
cost to the consumer, this archaic government regulation just doesn’t
make sense. It needlessly holds back Ohio brewers from having the
freedom to experiment with new products, a restriction not faced by
brewers in neighboring states.”

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said he hopes legislators will look
at how raising the alcohol percentage could impact drunk driving.

For the latest Cincinnati beer news and entertainment, go to
wcpo.com/beer or follow Jesse on Twitter at @wcpojesse .

You can take part in the conversation at our #9beer Facebook page too!

http://www.wcpo.com/entertainment/local-a-e/beer/hb-391-bigger-beer-bill-circles-drain-in-ohio-legislature


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