Standing before about 40 reform-minded Marylanders on a chilly January evening inside Dundalk’s only brewery, Comptroller Peter Franchot lifts tall his glass in unflinching resolve, vowing incontestable support for Maryland’s craft breweries but lamenting the Annapolis Machine’s penchant for antiquated beer laws that restrict a new wave of manifest economic growth.
On Thursday evening, Franchot – who in November was re-elected statewide by over 1.6 million votes, securing his position as Maryland’s most popular elected official – held a “Reform on Tap (The Next Round Happy Hour)” event at Key Brewing Co. in Dundalk.
It’s round two for Franchot in his prolonged battle to reform Maryland’s beer laws.
Last March, Maryland House Bill 218, the “Reform on Tap Act of 2018,” was soundly rejected by a staggering 17-4 vote in Maryland’s House Economic Matters Committee.
Franchot and his staff vigorously lobbied state lawmakers for months prior to the bill’s defeat. If signed into law, the legislation would have largely overhauled state restrictions on Maryland’s local craft brewers – including how much beer craft brewers can sell to the public and the amount of beer they can brew.
Franchot, a Democrat, said reforming Maryland’s craft beer laws is not a partisan issue. He was joined at the event by members of the District 6 delegation, all Republicans, including state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling and Delegates Ric Metzger and Robin Grammer.
Franchot rattled off a series of economic stats about the craft beer industry, saying, “it’s a $650 million-dollar industry; it provides 6,500 jobs and $228 million in payroll.”
Perturbed that Franchot audaciously confronted a legislative issue that some lawmakers believe rests outside his political jurisdiction, the same House committee that rejected Franchot’s reform proposals subsequently set up a task force to determine whether the comptroller’s office should even be involved in regulating the state’s alcohol industry, a stinging personal rebuke to the former longtime District 20 lawmaker and a move that some say went too far.
Franchot released a statement shortly after the committee voted down his reform package, calling the rejection of his proposals “more business as usual in Annapolis” and further decried the “Annapolis Machine” as a detriment to getting real reform passed in the state legislature.
This time around, however, Franchot believes that his package of reforms will “get a much fairer review this session.”
“You’ll see some very modest changes in the legislation – perception, image and reputational…. it’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to happen,” Franchot told the audience.
Predicting that independent craft breweries will move elsewhere unless Maryland reforms what Franchot calls “antiqued state laws,” the state’s comptroller reiterated that surrounding states, like Virginia, whose state laws are more favorable to craft beer makers, will economically benefit from Maryland’s stubborn inaction.
“Maryland is way behind Virginia, Pennsylvania and D.C… Maryland products taste a lot better than Budweiser!” Franchot said.
Franchot said he believes the modest reforms will help in recruiting new breweries to Maryland.
“I’m ready to go down and do battle…Let’s break through some of the medieval nonsense.”