Md. alcohol bills prompt long, heated hearing

WASHINGTON — There were raised voices and sharp words at a Friday hearing in Annapolis to consider changes to Maryland’s alcohol laws.

The Maryland facility is the first active Guinness brewery in the U.S. since 1954 and is expected to produce over a million cases annually when it's complete/ (WTOP/Jack Pointer)

And that hearing, before the House Economic Matters Committee, lasted for hours.

Among the bills that people packed the room to testify about was proposed by Comptroller Peter Franchot.

After forming a task force that held several meetings last summer and fall, Franchot proposed House Bill 518 to rid craft beer brewers of many restrictions, including limits on how much beer can be sold in taprooms for on-site consumption.

Carly Ogden, of Attaboy Beer in Frederick, testified in favor of the plan.

“Black & Decker isn’t restricted on the number of drills they can sell. Our local bakery isn’t restricted on the amount of bread they can sell,” she said.

But Del. Benjamin Kramer, who has public safety concerns, asked Ogden: “Are you aware of any traffic fatalities in the state of Maryland that resulted from an overquantity of sales of drills by Black and Decker, or overquantities of bread sold by a bakery?”

Kramer, a Montgomery County Democrat, is co-sponsoring House Bill 1316, which would create a new task force to study alcohol regulation in the state.

A third bill, House Bill 1052, would roll back alcohol legislation that lawmakers approved last year, while preserving incentives that are bringing a Guinness brewery to Baltimore County.

Del. Talmadge Branch, a co-sponsor of the bill, says of last year’s effort: “We thought we were doing the right thing,” said the Democrat representing Baltimore. But brewers complained that it hurt more than it helped.

At times, the hearing became raucous.

Del. C.T. Wilson, a Democrat representing Charles County, accused Franchot of having a conflict of interest, and the two argued about it. Listen to the exchange below.

May 30, 2024 | Del. C.T. Wilson and Comptroller Peter Franchot discuss proposed bills in Annapolis (WTOP Staff)

And Bobby Bartlett of the anti-corruption group Represent Maryland — who is also a candidate for delegate in Maryland’s 39th District — lodged conflict-of-interest accusations against members of the committee because they have taken campaign money from the alcohol industry.

“Any allegations that somehow some little donation’s going to make me lose my value, my character and shame my daughters, is patently offensive,” Wilson said. “I came up here to make a difference,” he added.

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter turned morning anchor at WTOP News.

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