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Times-Record: Mayors endorse Reform on Tap Act of 2018

ANNAPOLIS — Mayors from across Maryland, including the elected leaders of Annapolis, Frederick, Cambridge and Ocean City, Thursday, Feb. 1, joined Comptroller Peter Franchot at Chesapeake Brewing Company in Annapolis to publicly endorse House Bill 518 — The Reform on Tap Act of 2018.

The legislation would overhaul the antiquated laws and burdensome regulations governing the state's craft breweries, chiefly by removing limits on beer production and taproom sales, letting local jurisdictions establish taproom operating hours, eliminating franchise law requirements and removing restrictions on contract brewing by upstart breweries. "No other manufacturing industry in the state is subject to the arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions placed on Maryland's craft breweries," said Franchot, whose Field Enforcement Division regulates breweries, wineries and distilleries. "These businesses are succeeding in spite of the state's antiquated laws, revitalizing neighborhoods, creating jobs, generating tax revenue and giving back to their communities."

Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley, who owns four restaurants in the capital city, said the current three-tier system doesn't provide a synergy between manufacturers, distributors and retailers for all to thrive. Worse yet, it prevents growth by tying the hands of business owners, which means fewer choices for consumers, he said, pointing to no production breweries located in the state capital.

"Annapolis is missing out on one of the most promising growth areas of tourism because we don't have a single brewery in the historic district," said Buckley. "Across the country from Bend, Oregon to Boulder, Colorado to Asheville, North Carolina, we are standing by and watching other small cities flourish from the explosive growth of breweries, which bring along with them — culture, art, music and everything that makes a city great and attractive. We must change our archaic system of laws and start supporting breweries instead of sending them away to other cities." Frederick Mayor Michael O'Connor, whose city boasts the largest concentration of craft breweries in the state, noted how the businesses create local pride that goes far beyond simply brewing and pouring beer — they repurpose unused buildings, host other vendors like food trucks and showcase local products, creating ancillary economic benefits. "In Frederick, we have seen firsthand the benefits of a growing craft brewing industry. These entrepreneurs create jobs, stimulate economic activity and attract tourists from around the region. But more than the economic stimulus they provide, these family-owned businesses have become engaged and active members of our community and work to help improve every facet of our city."

RaR Brewing in Cambridge has been a cornerstone of the city's renaissance. Its frequent events typically attract large crowds of locals and visitors with lines regularly stretching down the block, said Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley. "The passage of HB 518 will result in continued success for RAR and its direct impact on economic growth and tourism for our local economy," she said. "A local once told me, 'Mayor, it's all about local flavor.' HB 518 supports our local flavor."

Facing intense competition from neighboring states, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan noted the importance for state and local leaders to stand behind innovators who are willing to invest their hard-earned dollars in Maryland.

"In Ocean City, our craft brewers are major contributors to our community, specifically our tourism and hospitality industry. In a resort whose economy is supported by small and locally-owned businesses, I think this legislation sends the right message," Meehan said. "More importantly, the Reform on Tap Act of 2018 sends a message to our small businesses that we are behind you, we support you and we will do everything we can to encourage your growth and success."

The Reform on Tap Act will be heard before the House Economic Matters Committee on Friday, Feb. 23. The public is invited to deliver testimony.

The legislation reflects the findings of the Comptroller's Reform on Tap Task Force, which held eight meetings this past summer and fall to get a better grasp of the state's current laws and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for craft brewers. The 40-member task force represented every region in the state and industry stakeholders including brewers, distributors, retailers, consumers and lawmakers from both parties.

An economic impact study conducted by the Bureau of Revenue Estimates found that in Maryland, the craft beer industry had an overall economic impact of $802.7 million and supported or created 6,541 jobs in 2016. The industry contributed nearly $110 million in local, state and federal revenues, which directly supports investments in education, public safety, transportation and the environment.

Still, the state is a net importer of craft beer, meaning it consumes more (275,000 barrels) than it produces (247,000 barrels). Furthermore, the National Brewers Association ranked Maryland 47th in economic impact, 36th in number of breweries and 25th in gallons produced per adult aged 21 years and over – all indications that the state's craft beer industry has plenty of room to grow if the arbitrary restrictions currently in place are lifted.

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