I’ve heard it said that the greatest enemy of the Good is the Great. With only seven days remaining in our first legislative Session, it appears that the second rule of legislating (after “can we, should we, must we”) should be to avoid letting the Great be the enemy of the Good. As a practical matter, the value of this rule may be best demonstrated in the battle over HB86 and SB192. Through negotiations over these two bills, which Senator Holtzclaw (R-Madison) and I introduced early in the Session, we saw exactly how prioritizing the Good over the Great can lead to the best legislative result. And the best legislative result is not to simply pass your bill, it’s to pass good and necessary legislation.
As discussed elsewhere, the push for reform in our brewery and brewpub laws has been a long time coming, and HB86 and SB192 were the legislative vehicles for addressing that needed reform. SB192, embodied the grassroots push for reform in our brewery and brewpub laws as advocated by Free the Hops. While SB192 included everything Free the Hops wanted, some of its provisions weren’t entirely palatable to other interested parties, including the ABC Board and the wholesalers, to name a few. Specifically at issue was the question of how some of the proposed reforms to the brewery and brewpub laws in this State would impact the three-tiered system, which is sacrosanct in the world of alcohol retail. Some accused one of the major distributors of holding up the bill – not true. All parties involved wanted a good bill, not just a politically expedient one, and we all worked diligently together to accomplish just that.
Last week, some representatives from a major distributor came up to Montgomery, and we sat down with them and representatives from the wholesalers, Free the Hops, and the ABC Board to work out a compromise. Early Tuesday morning, we settled on the compromise legislation, and the following day, the substitute (which included the compromise language) was put on SB192 in the Economic Development and Tourism committee. Senator Holtzclaw and I both advocated for the substitute, which in his words, “accomplishes 80% of what the interested parties want — a good day’s work.” As substituted, SB192 passed out of committee and now awaits to be put on the Special Order Calendar. Once it goes to the House floor and passes, the Senate needs only to concur in the changes in the substitute. Then, it goes to the Governor’s desk for signature, and we will have won a small victory for a small but growing industry in Alabama. Indeed, there will be beer; but more importantly, there will be jobs as small businesses around our State take advantage of the growing tourism and entertainment opportunities that this legislation creates.
This “give and take” is what makes the legislative process so critical to our democracy. Unlike the Executive branch, which can exert (often unchecked) unilateral power, the legislative branch is a deliberative body designed to struggle through difficult issues and to force compromise from disparate interests. That process has been evident in some important legislation, such as the negotiations over SB310 (the Tenure Reform bill), but we would do well to demand that process for every piece of controversial legislation that passes through the Legislature. Otherwise, our Legislature becomes an executive body, not a legislative body. And, no State can handle two Governors, just as no man can live with two wives.