David Shafer urges revenue commissioner to back off new craft beer regs

Senate President pro tem David Shafer has become the second ranking lawmaker to urge the state Department of Revenue to back off a regulation imposed this fall that craft beer enthusiasts say undercuts legislation to loosen on-site brewery sales.

Earlier this month, House Speaker David Ralston said the Department of Revenue had exceeded the authority the General Assembly granted and that lawmakers would act when they convene in January if the agency doesn’t.

The letter from Shafer, the No. 2 leader in the Senate, may be more significant. In the past, the Duluth lawmaker has often allied himself with liquor wholesalers and others who want to preserve the status quo when it comes to the retailing of alcohol, including the state’s three-tiered distribution system.

The letter from Shafer – its authenticity was confirmed by his office – was addressed to state Revenue Commissioner Lynne Riley, but a copy was also sent to state Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Atlanta, lead author of Senate Bill 63, which passed the Legislature earlier this year. Read the Shafer letter here:

The state’s three-tiered system of alcohol sales requires a middle-man to stand between the manufacturer of beer, wine and spirits and the product’s final retailer.

S.B. 63 gave craft brewers the ability to sell facility tours and give away their product afterward — a kind of backdoor way to actually sell their beer directly to customers, something brewers have long sought.

After Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill into the law, the state Revenue Department enacted rules governing the tours. Those regulations allowed brewers to create different tour packages at different price levels.

But reporting by one of your Insiders, Aaron Gould Sheinin, turned up this:

Months later, on Sept. 25, the department issued a “bulletin” saying while brewers can offer different levels of tours, the price differences cannot be based on the value of the beer. Many breweries, however, had already begun doing just that, based on the original rules the department issued in late June and on their understanding of lawmakers’ intentions.

… Department of Revenue records show the agency met and spoke repeatedly with representatives of Georgia’s beer and liquor wholesalers, who wanted to block the brewers from selling tours based on the beer offered. At the same time, agency officials refused to meet with the brewers or their representatives.

The wholesalers and the craft brewers have been at odds for years as the distributors seek to protect the long-standing prohibition that bars alcohol manufacturers from selling directly to consumers. With the Sept. 25 rule change, the Revenue Department came down squarely on the side of the wholesalers.

With the House and Senate now on record, the next move may be up to Revenue Commissioner Lynne Riley.

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Not that you'd notice, but former New York Gov. George Pataki has left the GOP presidential contest:

It's like being able to tighten the belt one notch after a long, painful diet, with many pounds to go.

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Secretary of State Brian Kemp may be able to take some comfort that, when compared to this, his data leak problem looks manageable. From the L.A. Times:

State election officials are looking into claims that data on millions of California voters were publicly posted online.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said Tuesday that his office was working to verify media reports, first circulated Monday, that the information of as many as 191 million voters nationwide had been posted online “in an insecure manner by an unknown third party.”

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On that same topic, Secretary of State Brian Kemp's hiring of a former communications guru for Gov. Nathan Deal has come under fire from a familiar critic.

Bryan Long, the director of the left-leaning group Better Georgia, filed a formal protest of Kemp's decision to award a $6,000 monthly consulting contract to Brian Robinson, who for five years was Deal's spokesman. Robinson has played a behind-the-scenes role in trying to soften the fallout of the data breach that exposed information of more than 6 million Georgia voters.

Long's complaint to the Department of Administrative Services questions the decision to treat Robinson's hire as a no-bid contract.

"The state's contract laws allow for no-bid contracts when 'only one supplier is capable of providing the needed goods or services,'" said Long. "Brian Robinson is not the only person capable of providing media consulting services to Kemp."

Asked for comment earlier about the contract, Robinson said he “appreciated the advertisement” for his firm. Read the complaint here.

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Gov. Nathan Deal's administration finalized plans to kick in another $15 million in state grants to build a massive reservoir in west Georgia.

The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority said it will pump the money into the Richland Creek Reservoir, a 305-acre lake under construction in Paulding County. The project has already received about $68 million in loans from Deal's water supply program.

Here's a snippet from a recent story about how the reservoir plays into Georgia's water strategy:

Voters initially approved the project in 1999, and Dallas Austin, the County Commission’s chairman, cast the work as an imperative. In an interview, he twice invoked a recent notice from Cobb County, which now supplies Paulding with water, that warned it may eventually have to cut off the spigots.

“We’ll be able to provide for our residents ourselves,” he said. “And that means if a judge rules that Atlanta is not granted the same amount of water, Paulding would not be affected.”

Read more about the program here.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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