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Government, Politics & Issues

Liquor battle moves to state Senate, after House strongly backs Major Brands

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: St. Louis-based Major Brands has won Round 1 of the so-called “liquor war’’ in Jefferson City, after the Missouri House voted overwhelmingly this morning for a provision that redefines the word “franchise’’ when it comes to alcohol distributors and suppliers.

The House passed the amendment 112-47, adding it to a broader bill on alcohol issues that then passed 110-48. The measure then goes to the Senate, where the majority sentiment is less clear.

As the Beacon reported earlier, two liquor distributors -- Major Brands and Glazer’s of Missouri – have been waging an expensive lobbying battle over the definition of “franchise,’’ as a result of court rulings last year that tossed out the state’s traditional practice when it comes to liquor and wine distributors, suppliers and retailers. 

The House-approved measure restores the old definition, as sought by Major Brands. Glazer’s had backed the court decision, which its allies said encouraged more competition.

State Rep. Caleb Jones, R-California (and cousin of House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka), handled the amendment on behalf of Major Brands, framing the  provision as a "state's rights" amendment.

Major Brands' allies initially had backed two bills, but shifted to the amendment route since the two measures appeared stalled as the General Assembly moves into this session's final two weeks.

Missourians for Fair Competition, a coalition that included Glazer's and opposed the amendment, criticized this morning's vote, contending that the amendment "would create a government mandate forcing suppliers and retailers to do business with a particular wholesaler."

Mayor Brands chief executive Sue McCollum later issued a statement praising the House's decision.

"The Missouri House has taken a big step today toward protecting thousands of Missouri jobs. This bill would restore the regulatory framework that has existed since prohibition, but was weakened by a federal court," McCollum said. "We thank Speaker Tim Jones and the House leadership for their decisive action on this important issue."

"Now we need the Missouri Senate to take up and pass this crucial, bi-partisan piece of legislation before the end of the session to restore order to the alcohol distribution industry in Missouri."

Both distributors had hired dozens of lobbyists, which reporters noted had resulted in packed spectator galleries in the House for this morning’s vote. After the passage, the seats emptied quickly as the lobbyists moved on to the Senate.

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