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Beer battle moves over to Missouri House after Senate passes wide-ranging bill

(via Flickr/Mooganic)

Updated 3/3/2016 - Legislation designed to expand the sales of cold beer in the Show-Me State is now on tap in the Missouri House.

The Senate on Thursday voted 18-14 to pass Senate Bill 919, with support and opposition coming from both sides of the political aisle.

The bill would allow beer companies to lease portable refrigeration units to grocers and convenience stores, and allow those same stores to sell beer in reusable containers known as growlers.

Updated 3/2/2016 with initial Senate approval - A wide-ranging bill designed to increase sales of cold beer in Missouri is moving forward again.

The Missouri Senate gave first-round approval Wednesday to Senate Bill 919. It would allow beer companies to lease portable refrigerators to convenience stores and grocers as a means of increasing shelf space, and it would allow those same stores to sell beer in reusable containers, commonly known as growlers.

Opponents, including Dan Brown, R-Rolla, argue that the bill would unfairly benefit big companies such as Anheuser-Busch InBev over locally owned craft brewers.

"I don't think I’m naïve enough to realize that with the basic policy change that we're doing that InBev is going to let anybody put whatever they want in their cooler," he said.  "It might start out that way, but I'm just telling you that isn't going to last very long."

Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Pacific, disagreed with Brown's argument and said the portable fridges would not be brand specific.

"If I am the convenience store owner, I dictate the shelf space I'm going to allow to it," Schatz said.  "Now if InBev comes in here and they buy up all the convenience stores ... then yes, they are going to control the shelf space.  But the convenience store owner (and) the grocery store owner -- they are the ones that dictate who has what shelf space (and) where it is, not InBev or anybody else, or even craft brewers."

"Unless they take (back) the cooler," Brown shot back.

Brown is seeking the Republican nomination for state treasurer. The bill's sponsor, fellow Republican Eric Schmitt of Glendale, is also running for state treasurer.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, had been blocking the bill, but decided to allow it to be voted on.

"We have craft brewers ... and 4,000 jobs at stake here throughout our state. My position has been clear (and) I think I've said everything that I need to say in opposition to this bill," Schupp said. "I hope others will stand up and take up the cause to support the little guy, the entrepreneur, the small businessmen in the state."

She gave no reason for her decision to yield the floor.

The bill narrowly passed on a voice vote. It needs one more Senate vote before moving to the House.  

Original story (Feb. 29) - Legislation designed to expand sales of cold beer has been put on ice in the Missouri Senate.

The wide-ranging bill would allow brewers to lease portable refrigerators to retail stores and allow those same stores to sell reusable growlers. Currently, growlers sales in Missouri are only allowed directly from breweries and at bars that meet certain criteria.

Debate began on Senate Bill 919 last week, but was suspended so the Senate could spend more time on other issues. The bill was taken up again Monday, but a group of opponents began dominating floor debate. That, in turn, led the sponsor, Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, to ask the bill to be laid aside again.

He maintains that the bill would be good for all brewers in Missouri.

"Sixteen states allow brewers to lease refrigerators, including Wisconsin (home of Miller Brewing) and Colorado (home of Coors Brewing)," Schmitt said when debate began last week. "The reason for doing this is simple: beer is the number two selling category in convenience stores, and 92 percent of convenience store shoppers buy cold beer, (and) beer is the number 4 category in grocery stores. However, research shows that one in five consumers at these retail outlets will leave without having purchased beer if the brand isn't cold."

Democrat Jill Schupp of Creve Coeur contends, though, that the bill is designed to benefit Anheuser-Busch InBev at the expense of locally owned brewers.

"Earthbound, Piney River and Urban Chestnut have all contacted me and said, 'This bill is not good for us, the little guy,'" Schupp said. "To give A-B InBev essentially what will amount to additional shelf space to crowd out those other brewers, I think, is significant."

Opposition also came from Republicans, including Dan Brown of Rolla.

"I have a lot of micro breweries in my area. ... I don't know that I've ever had any more contact, both by telephone and by email, than I have on this one issue," he said. "They feel pretty threatened  and as a group tend to not support this idea."

Brown also happens to be challenging Schmitt for the Republican nomination for Missouri treasurer.

Schmitt insists that the bill will benefit small local breweries as well as the big national brands.

"All I can do is point to the facts in the places that are doing it (including Wisconsin), and the small brewers have done exceedingly well in those places, and in fact, there is more available cold space for their products as well," he said.

There is no word yet on when or if Schmitt will ask for debate to resume on the wide-ranging bill.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.