Furious negotiations underway over craft brewery bill

Last week we told you of a coming fight over a plan to make major revisions to Georgia's three-tiered system of alcohol sales.

State Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, was drafting a bill to allow small brewers and distillers to sell limited amounts of alcohol directly to consumers, something that is that now illegal under the state's booze laws that were written after the end of Prohibition.

The bill, a direct result of last fall's fight between the craft brewers, the beer wholesalers and the Department of Revenue. Lawmakers in 2015 agreed to allow brewers to give away limited amounts of beer to consumers who buy tours of their breweries. But Revenue officials later instituted a controversial regulation that stymied those efforts, leading top lawmakers to call on the agency to reverse course.

The agency has done no such thing, leading Stephens to prep his bill. But that was 10 days ago and still no bill has been filed.

The hallways of the Capitol are full of whispers that furious negotiations are under way among all involved. Wholesalers are surely using their considerable political sway to keep the bill in whatever drawer it's currently in. The brewers, too, are considering how big of a bite of the apple they can safely take this year.

Today is Day 8 of the 40-day legislative session. There's plenty of time for a deal to be made -- or fall apart completely.

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