John Kasich should prepare his veto pen. Substitute Senate Bill 48 reflects the mischief-making, or just plain cynicism, that erodes public confidence in the way state lawmakers do business. The trouble with the legislation isn’t its primary thrust, easing the licensing fee for small craft brewers in Ohio. That makes sense. Where lawmakers went astray was in adding a provision with little public notice or discussion, all apparently to favor the wishes of a special interest.
What would the provision achieve? It would bar large breweries from acquiring wholesale distributorships in the state. No surprise that the Ohio Wholesale Wine and Beer Association supports the provision. On Wednesday, the Columbus Dispatch reported that the group contributed more than $600,000 to legislative and statewide campaigns in the most recent two-year election cycle.
No surprise, either, that Anheuser-Busch, which operates one of the country’s largest breweries in Columbus, found the legislative hustle far from amusing. The president of its North America operations wrote a sharp letter to William Batchelder, the House speaker, and Keith Faber, the Senate president. The letter noted the whirlwind rate of passage last week, “in the space of four hours,” from introduction to approval.
The speed hardly seemed to worry the legislative leaders. Faber told reporters he thought the bill “went through the ordinary course,” even inviting the conclusion that Anheuser-Busch should have kept better track of the process. A spokesman for Speaker Batchelder indicated the same.
State Rep. Jim Buchy told the Dispatch that the provision aims at “maintaining the integrity of that manufacturing, distribution, retail setup,” reinforcing “how we want to conduct the sale of beer in Ohio.” Yet, in its letter, Anheuser-Busch countered that lawmakers actually were reversing “30 years of established law” in the state, upending industry plans and contracts, mounting “a direct intervention” on the side of “one group of parties in competitive business situations.”
At the least, there is a worthy argument here, one that deserves full airing, lawmakers hearing in public sessions from both sides, weighing the potential fallout, looking to avoid unwanted and unintended consequences. Unfortunately, such care wasn’t taken, and thus Anheuser-Busch, which employs more than 700 Ohio workers, has the much stronger argument, or good reason to cry foul.
Now the governor should tell lawmakers to start over and engage in the necessary discussion. That begins with using his veto pen.