After disagreement between Montana brewers and the state tavern association over letting breweries stay open an extra two hours, a legislative committee tabled the idea Friday, meaning for now Montanans still have to order their last taproom beers by 8 p.m.
The legislation was brought by Democrat David Fern, of Whitefish. It was tabled on a 16-3 vote in the House Business and Labor Committee.
Rep. Ed Buttrey, a Republican from Great Falls, brought the motion to table the bill. Buttrey said he wants to see agreement between the brewers and tavern owners on proposed legislation before bills come to the committee for hearings so lawmakers aren't the ones who have to "pick winners and losers."
Buttrey said in 2015 and 2017, when he chaired the Senate Business and Labor Committee, he met with alcohol distributors, manufacturers like breweries and retailers like bars and told the groups to come to the Legislature with a compromise, not to have lawmakers settle disputes.
"If you come to us unanimous with a situation, we'll pass it. If you don't come to us unanimous we are not going to pick winners and losers," said Buttrey, who met with the involved groups Thursday evening.
Matt Leow, executive director of the Montana Brewers Association, disagreed with Buttrey.
"I think ultimately the Legislature does need to decide," Leow said. "They are the lawmakers. … What some like Rep. Buttrey are asking for is all the parties of the Montana alcohol industry to come together and agree on something. Of course that makes it a lot easier for them because there's no controversy. The challenge is we do have industry groups that are very content with the status quo, or only want minor change, and so it puts the craft brewers at a disadvantage."
Leow said he's optimistic something can be salvaged from the tabled bill and moved forward this session. He also pointed out while disagreements between the three legs of Montana's alcohol system are well-publicized during the legislative session, the groups work together year-round to make, distribute and sell products.
"It's not like we're arch enemies. We have disagreements over what the policy framework should be, but there is a common ground here and that gives me hope," Leow said.
The House Business and Labor Committee also killed another bill that would have limited the sale of flavored tobacco products to retailers that don't admit minors and get 90 percent of their revenue from tobacco sales. It would also ban sales of tobacco from self-service displays, with the exception of vending machines.
The committee did pass out a bill that would allow public employees to "opt in" on unions and fees. The legislation comes after a U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled charging union fees to state employees who didn't want to participate in a union was unconstitutional.