Draft beer bills create brew

By: Brian Lyman

Lawmakers, officials trade jabs over local liquor legislation

Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville, and Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, have competing bills involving draft beer and Sunday sales in Millbrook and Wetumpka. / AMANDA SOWARDS/ADVERTISER

A dispute pitting Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, against local officials and Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville, may delay draft beer and Sunday sales in Millbrook and Wetumpka.

All parties agree on the goal. The falling-out occurs over whether the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who operate a casino in Wetumpka, should be included and the method of getting Sunday sales. On the latter, the mayors of Millbrook and Wetumpka want a bill that allows their local city councils to decide the matter. Taylor wants it approved by a local referendum.

Prattville, which allows Sunday sales of alcohol, authorized draft beer sales last year.

The arguments became heated last week after Taylor announced introduction of his own bills on Sunday sales and draft beer.

Earlier in the year, Beckman introduced legislation that would have authorized both city councils to allow Sunday sales and draft beer through an ordinance. The representative’s legislation also includes language that would have excluded the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who operate a casino in Wetumpka, from the legislation.

Beckman said Thursday that meetings with Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis and Millbrook Mayor Al Kelley left him with the impression that the tribe had agreed to that language. Kelley said Saturday that at the outset, that was the understanding.

Kelley said as he read the legislation, the tribe would be excluded anyway because the legislation specifically limits draft beer and Sunday sales to the corporate limits of the cities; under federal law, the tribe is considered a sovereign nation. The specific anti-gambling lines, he said, were an attempt to appease Taylor, a longtime opponent of gambling legislation. Last year, former Rep. Barry Mask, R-Wetumpka, tried to pass similar legislation that would have authorized a referendum for the sale of draft beer in Wetumpka, and a second referendum for Sunday sales throughout Elmore County. Taylor amended both bills to exclude the tribe, and neither passed.

“We knew and felt like they were excluded anyway, because weren’t in the corporate limits,” Kelley said. “They don’t get city services.”

Willis declined to comment on the matter Saturday. Kelley said he believed the tribe accepted the language at first, but both he and Beckman said they were approached later by tribal representatives and told the Poarch Band had concerns with it.

“They don’t want to be singled out, and they’re trying to be good neighbors,” Beckman said. “So I have a problem.”

Robert McGhee, director of government relations for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, said the tribe “abides by current (Alabama Beverage Control) laws.” The Poarch Band of Creek Indians currently serve both bottled beer and other alcohol, but do not serve draft beer and do not currently serve alcohol on Sundays.

“We just felt there should be parity,” he said. “It’s not that we would serve draft beer. We’re not set up for it. We support all businesses in that area, and we think all businesses and individuals should be treated the same.”

Under the Alabama Constitution, local bills must be advertised for four weeks in the area affected before being introduced in the Legislature. Major amendments to local legislation are forbidden; the bills would have to be advertised and resubmitted. Beckman said that without the tribe’s consent to the exclusion, he considered the bill dead and decided not to move it.

Taylor’s Sunday sales bill included the exclusionary provision, but also required a referendum on Sunday sales, held at the next primary election in the city. Taylor said Thursday he “made it very clear (to local officials) I did not support the Legislature forcing Sunday sales legislation on communities.” Senators have effective veto power over local legislation they disapprove of; bills need the unanimous consent of an area’s delegation to move forward.

The referendum brought criticism from Beckman and Kelley, who said that it went against the local governments’ wishes. Both city councils passed resolutions last November urging the authorization, saying local businesses found themselves at a disadvantage with establishments in Prattville.

“He doesn’t have any endorsement in our counties,” said Kelley, adding that the city councils were willing “to take the heat” if voters disapproved of their ordinances. In addition, he said, holding a referendum at the primary election would force voters to vote in two different locations.

“I vote in one place for the city election, and one place for the municipal,” Kelley said. “You can’t ask two people to go to the same location to vote.”

Beckman said Taylor was “usurping local legislation, local authority” and had advertised his bills without the cities’ consent.

“And then he said, ‘Oh by the way, I’m sending the bill (for the referendum) to the two cities,’” Beckman said. “You ran an ad with a misrepresentation to the people that you said it was all right to run a referendum. The city didn’t give you authorization.”

Taylor said that he understood the cities’ concerns and had planned to introduce amendments to move the referendum date to the next municipal election; Kelley said that would delay the referendum until 2016.

As for the exclusion of the tribe, Taylor said he believed sales at the Poarch Band’s Wetumpka facility could undercut sales made by local businesses.

“I represent the taxpaying business owners and restaurant owners in Elmore County,” he said. “I don’t think we should let the tribe dictate whether or not those businesses ought to be able to offer the same draft beer as Prattville.”

Beckman said it was a matter of fairness.

“If the sales are going to go down in Wetumpka, the Indians aren’t going to be excluded,” Beckman said. “I’ve got people in Autauga County and Elmore County that work for them. … Whether you like it or not, they’re the biggest employer there.”

With just five legislative days left in the current session, which is expected to end early next month, passage of any measure will require agreement between the parties. Taylor said he believed he had support in the Senate for his bills.

“I would be surprised if an official basically said, ‘All or nothing,’” he said. “I don’t think that’s fair to our restaurants and business owners who just want a level playing field when it comes to draft beer”

Beckman was equally emphatic that he could not support a bill that excluded the Poarch Band.

“We’re picking and choosing who we want to associate with,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the Alabama way.”

Kelley was frustrated with the entire process, saying Taylor was the only local lawmaker blocking the proposal.

“Why does something like this go to the Legislature?” he asked. “We don’t go to the Legislature to change speed limits . . . two mayors and two councils unanimously approved this thing.”