Lawmakers Eye Bills That Would Shake Up Iowa’s Alcohol Industry

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- With the Iowa Legislature's first deadline known as the "funnel" approaching, lawmakers are filtering through a host of bills this week to determine what's moving on and what's fading away for another year.

Three alcohol-related bills will be evaluated this week in the Iowa House: one will live on, another has died and a third's future is still in question.

The House Study Bill 594, which passed out of a full committee Monday, is now floor-eligible for a vote at any time this session. The bill would allow restaurants and bars to use self-serve alcohol machines, like what East Village wine dive Della Viti already employs. Currently, businesses must attain a certain permit to use self-serve machines.

House File 2156 did not make it out of a subcommittee within the House State Government Committee Wednesday. While the bill will die this session, some lawmakers feel confident it will make a comeback next year. The bill proposed restaurants/bars that make and sell their own beer be allowed to sell growlers, large to-go containers - without a "middle man;" current Iowa law works on a three-tier system, where manufacturers, distributors, and retailers must work separately.

As it stands now, brewpubs can make their own growlers, but then they have to sell those growlers to a distributor first before buying it back and selling it to their own customers. This bill would have allowed brewpubs to fill those growlers and sell them directly to customers.

Due to additional amendments tagged onto the bill at the last minute, Rep. Guy Vander Linden (R-Oskaloosa) said the bill was too muddled down to pass out of subcommittee Wednesday.

Now for the uncertain: House Study Bill 574, which would increase the number of liquor bottles a micro-distillery can sell to an individual in a single day. Current law caps that at a whopping two bottles; this bill raises that limit to about a "case" - what lawmakers say is somewhere between 9 to 12 bottles. The bill has to clear two committees in order to survive Friday's funnel; it's cleared the House State Government Committee, so now it needs approval from the House Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Vander Linden says he's confident it still has time to survive before Friday, and that all of these laws ultimately need to strike a balance of protecting Iowa's alcohol policies without hurting emerging small businesses.

"I think the micro-distillery business in Iowa is analogous to the native wine business that has sprung up over the past 20 years or so," Rep. Vander Linden said. "I think that it contributes to the economy, I think it helps small communities where they're established, and I think Iowans enjoy it, so yeah, I think it's a good thing for the state."

Vander Linden is pushing another bill that would increase the number of liquor bottles distilleries can sell to customers in a single day.