Scoop: Franchot Bellying Up to the Bar

State Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) will announce Tuesday that he is creating a commission to take “a comprehensive, top-to-bottom look at Maryland’s beer industry,” according to a source familiar with the comptroller’s plans.

Franchot will disclose details of his plans during an appearance Tuesday afternoon at Attaboy Brewing, a brew pub in Frederick, followed by a speech to the national Craft Brewers Conference in Washington, D.C.

Franchot, the state’s alcohol regulator, became a major advocate for the state’s craft brewers in recent weeks, as the General Assembly was debating a bill to enable Guinness to open a brewery and tap room in Baltimore County. He plans to call his effort “Reform on Tap.”

His announcement follows passage of legislation in the General Assembly Saturday of legislation to give Guinness the go-ahead on its Baltimore County plans, and to allow other breweries to increase the amount sold in their taprooms.

A deal was reached on the bill late last week after a lobbying battle between beer companies and other elements of the state’s heavily regulated alcoholic beverage industry — as well as a war of words between Economic Matters Committee Chairman Dereck Davis (D) and the chairman of the Economic Matters Alcoholic Beverage Subcommittee, Del. Charles Barkley (D).

Franchot’s goal is to create recommendations for legislation that would reform the maze of state alcohol laws to boost the state’s burgeoning craft brewery industry.

In a sign of how high a priority this will be for Franchot in the months ahead, he has tasked his politically savvy chief of staff, Len Foxwell, to be the staff liaison to the task force – though some of the liquor industry regulators in the comptroller’s office will provide staff support.

“The idea is for [the craft breweries] to grow and succeed and to compete,” said the source familiar with Franchot’s plans.

The task force will consist of about 25 members – craft brewers from across the state and other stakeholders – and will meet frequently throughout the spring and summer, primarily in taprooms in every corner of Maryland. Task force members will be announced in a matter of days, and the first meeting could take place as soon as late April.

Franchot envisions the meetings being informal roundtable discussions rather than regimented hearings. The meetings will be “interactive, participatory and informal – reflective of the culture of the industry,” the source said.

Legislative recommendations would be proposed in the early fall.

COMING SOON IN MARYLAND MATTERS The session’s winners and losers.

Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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