State-Based Alcohol Regulation Highlighted at 2011 NBWA Legislative Conference

U.S. beer distributors recently arrived in Washington, D.C., to advocate for effective state-based alcohol regulation and educate members of Congress about the important role of independent beer distributors as part of the 2011 Legislative Conference hosted by the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA).

Specifically, beer distributors are voicing support for H.R. 1161, the Community Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness (CARE) Act of 2011, which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representatives Jason Chaffetz (UT), Bruce Braley (IA), Howard Coble (NC), John Conyers (MI), Ted Deutch (FL), Jim Jordan (OH), Gary Miller (CA), Dennis Ross (FL) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL). The CARE Act focuses on who should make decisions regarding alcohol regulation rather than what those decisions should be. It recognizes and reaffirms that alcohol is different from other consumer products and should continue to be regulated by the states.

The Legislative Conference program included a panel of legal experts featuring two former Supreme Court clerks. NBWA Senior Vice President of Industry Affairs and General Counsel Paul Pisano moderated the discussion between Edward Dawson of Yetter Coleman LLP, who served as Supreme Court clerk to Justice Anthony Kennedy, and former Solicitor General of Texas and Justice Department official Jim Ho, who clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas and is a partner with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. The panel discussed some of the legal challenges that are threatening the effective system of state-based alcohol regulation, including lawsuits that have been brought against more than half of the states.

From a state-government standpoint, “unnecessary litigation is public enemy number one,” Ho says.

With budget crises impacting state governments across the country, state attorneys general offices do not have unlimited legal resources and most states have dramatically reduced their budgets. Ho described the value of the CARE Act in defending certain state alcohol laws against legal challenges from online alcohol sellers, some big-box retailers, international alcohol producers, professional plaintiffs and other economic interests.

Attendees also heard a supplier perspective during a discussion between NBWA leaders – President Craig Purser and Chairman Larry Del Papa – and the leadership of the Brewers Association (BA), including BA President Charlie Papazian; BA Chair Nick Matt, chairman and CEO of F.X. Matt Brewing Co.; and BA Vice Chair Sam Calgione, president of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. The BA leadership provided perspective on policy issues impacting the industry at state and federal levels, including support for an independent three-tier system of beer distribution and ensuring market access for small brewers. The leaders of NBWA and the BA discussed how small brewers and distributors can work together to continue to provide U.S. consumers with the most choice and variety of any country in the world – including 13,000 labels of beer from more than 1,700 breweries.

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