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Liquor bill blocked at Missouri legislative session’s end

May 19, 2013

A contentious liquor bill that had been the topic of intense lobbying at the Capitol this session didn’t make it to a vote before the session’s end today.

Lawmakers wrapped up at 6 p.m., with the bill aimed at regulating the link between alcohol suppliers and distributors blocked in the Senate.

The proposed legislation would have made it more difficult for alcohol suppliers to sever their relationships with distributors by deeming those relationships as “franchises.”

A 2011 federal court ruling overturned a state law that had been governing the relationship between suppliers and distributors since 1975, prompting some of the country’s largest liquor suppliers to file lawsuits to end their contracts with local distributors.

Opponents of the legislation, modeled from the pre-2011 system, have argued that attempted to insert government into activities that should be left to the free market.

A group of opponents, dubbed Missourians for Fair Competition, praised the bill’s failure today, saying that it would have given the state’s largest liquor distributor “monopoly protections.”

“We will continue to fight for legislators who stand for a free market economy because they understand that competition will help create jobs and move this state forward,” Missourians for Fair Competition spokesman Ed Rhode said.

Meanwhile, proponents argued the bill would have saved jobs and re-established a system that had been in place since Prohibition.

Sue McCollum, CEO of St. Louis-based Major Brands, the state’s largest liquor distributor, said the company, which employs more than 700 people in the state, would now concentrate on rebuilding itself following lawsuits that severed its relationships with its two largest suppliers. The two suppliers – Diageo Americas and Bacardi USA – accounted for 50 percent of its spirits business, she said.

“We had enough support and nearly enough momentum. We just ran out of time,” McCollum said. “Major will continue to fight for Missouri jobs, our customers, and consumers.”

The liquor franchise legislation — proposed in both the House and Senate earlier this year — had stalled in committee for much of the session but it was revived in the final weeks when the House tied it to an unrelated beer bill.

After senators raised objections when the bill hit the floor earlier this week, Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, said he tried to address some of the concerns, including a provision that would have made the law retroactive.

“What I heard was go to conference and deal with the retroactivity and we’ll pass it in a day,” he said. “That’s what I did.”

Throughout the session, lawmakers were bombarded with calls and emails from supporters and opponents of the liquor legislation. Online ads urged Missourians to call their local reps and urge action on the bill.

Nearly three dozen lobbyists worked the issue in the halls of the state Capitol. St. Louis Mayor Frances Slay also made several trips to the Capitol to lobby in favor of it.

Source: St. Louis Post Dispatch