Advocates for Alabama's Gourmet Beer Bill are feeling frustrated, and with good reason - they have again fallen victim to a stalled senate. For the second year in a row, Free the Hops (Alabama's grassroots gourmet beer advocacy group) has managed to get a bill passed in the state House that would raise the alcohol limit on beer sold in Alabama, and for the second year in a row the bill has stalled in the gridlocked Senate.
The Senate has been held hostage by Senator Phil Poole, a Moundville Democrat, who has filibustered with such frequency that some have dubbed his stalling "Philibustering." Poole began using his signature move after Governor Bob Riley, in 2007, vetoed a $1 million highway appropriation for Poole's district. When the House upheld Riley's veto, Poole killed or filibustered House bills in the Senate.
Poole is not the only Senator holding up the legislative session with the filibuster. 2008 saw the Senate held up for more than a month when Sen. Myron Penn (D-Union Springs) filibustered a Macon County bingo bill. But Poole also filibustered throughout the 2008 regular session, causing the Senate to leave several bills - including the Gourmet Beer Bill - to die at the end of the session. In 2009, there was some early hope that senators had reached an agreement with Poole to allow the Senate to function as a regular legislative body. However, Poole resumed using the filibuster when, during his absence, the Senate voted unanimously to pass a bill that would more closely regulate the transport of large steel coils on Alabama highways - a bill that Poole had taken pains to delay.
The Senate could still pass the Gourmet Beer Bill if it got to the floor, but the Legislature is well past the half-way point in its 30-day session and opportunities are dwindling. The bill's best chance at passage depends on the Senate bringing up HB373, the beer bill the House passed. There's a chance Poole will filibuster that bill simply because it originated in the House. The Senate could also vote on its version of the Gourmet Beer Bill, SB132, which would then have to be passed by the House before going on to Gov. Riley.
With time running short, Free the Hops has launched a "a coordinated campaign to let them [the Senate] know that we're watching, and that we want them to do the work they've been elected to do." The campaign, which was announced Tuesday on the organization's blog, encourages Alabama's beer lovers to write, call and send email to their senators and "Urge that they resolve the issues that are slowing business and get our bill, HB373, up for a vote."
Will that effort be enough to get the Senate to do its job? We'll know soon enough.
Follow FreeTheHops on Twitter or visit the organization's website at www.freethehops.org.