The Latest on the Surly Bill: Mayor Rybak Steps Up for Surly, the MLBA Acknowledges the Power of Social Media, and is a Committee Hearing on the Horizon?

I’m just a bill.
Yes, I’m only a bill.
And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill.
Well, it’s a long, long journey
To the capital city.
It’s a long, long wait
While I’m sitting in committee,
But I know I’ll be a law someday
At least I hope and pray that I will,
But today I am still just a bill.

– “I’m Just a Bill”, Schoolhouse Rock, 1975

A bill does not become a law overnight, especially when the bill is before a Minnesota Legislature trying to pass a balanced budget in the face of a projected $5 billion deficit. 

Still, when it comes to the “Surly Bill” – the popular name for the set of bills (SF416 and HF703) that would allow production breweries to sell pints of beer onsite – a quick scan of news stories over the past weeks gives us Minnesota craft beer fans hope that a new dawn is on the horizon for Minnesota brewing.

The story receiving the most attention is Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s remarks during his State of the City address on Tuesday, March 8.  Mayor Rybak has been a supporter of Surly’s expansion efforts since they were announced as he wants to see the new brewery located in his City.

Here’s the text of Mayor Rybak’s remarks pertaining to the Surly legislation:

“There are also times when we need to advocate for policy changes in the city and elsewhere that can let business flourish.  One of the great buildings in the city, the historic Grain Belt Brewery, stands both as a reminder of the city’s past and how we can grow jobs in the future.  Until last year, and unlike other cities in the area, Minneapolis did not allow sales of growlers of beer by packaging breweries – until we changed the ordinance, led by Council Member Gary Schiff.  The result is Harriet Brewery, whose growler we held up at the beginning of this speech, is now brewed in Minneapolis.  I believe that similarly, the Legislature should make the changes in State law that will allow Surly Brewing Company to brew and sell beer in a new restaurant that I would like to see on a rejuvenated upper riverfront.”

Mayor Rybak is perhaps the most recognized elected official to announce his support for the law change, but even more important to this process are the members of the Minnesota House and Minnesota Senate who will ultimately vote on the bill.   Minneapolis Representative Frank Hornstein and Hopkins Representative Steve Simon recently announced their support for the new law, and Rep. Jenifer Loon (R- Eden Prairie) indicated in an interview with the CityPages that she has received numerous requests from her colleagues to sign on to the bill. 

Still, the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association is continuing its opposition to the bill, but there are signs that the MLBA may not be as organized and/or united as its needs to be.  MLBA President Frank Ball told the StarTribune that he “completely underestimated the power of social media” and its role in this fight in response to Surly’s massive Facebook campaign in support of the bill.  Also, MN Beer Activists has posted a great letter from Bill Princeton, owner of Princeton’s Liquors in Maple Grove (where, incidentally, I use to shop when I lived in Maple Grove) – part of the constituency the MLBA claims to be advocating for in its opposition – speaking out in support of the Surly Bill.  Rep. Loon also indicated in the CityPages interview that she has invited the MLBA to propose amendments to her bill that would alleviate their concerns over any weakening of the three-tier system of manufacturing, distribution and retailing. 

Politics in Minnesota reported on Surly owner Omar Ansari’s visit to the Capitol this week to talk with legislators and to seek support for the law change. 

The key date to watch is March 25, the deadline for the Legislature to wrap up its work on the State budget.  Once that herculean task is completed, look for the Surly Bill to have its day in committee.  In the meantime, contact your legislators, the committee members, and the MLBA to show your support for legislation that will undoubtedly create more jobs in Minnesota at no cost to taxpayers.  For contact information please read my prior post here.