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Task force on tap for Peter Franchot as Maryland lawmakers approve study of his alcohol regulation role

The Maryland Senate on Wednesday approved a plan to study whether Comptroller Peter Franchot should continue to regulate the state’s alcohol industry — legislation inspired by a fight over beer policy between lawmakers and the Democratic comptroller.

Without discussion, the chamber voted 42-3 to create a task force to examine whether the comptroller’s office “is the most appropriate agency to ensure the safety and welfare of the residents of Maryland.” The House of Delegates approved the measure earlier this month, after rejecting a proposal by Franchot to eliminate many restrictions that craft brewers say are slowing their industry’s growth.

The passage is the latest blow in a yearlong battle over Maryland’s system of alcohol regulation, which dates to Prohibition and has established, powerful forces in Annapolis. While he pushed a proposal he called “Reform on Tap,” Franchot spent much of the past year publicly blasting members of the House Economic Matters Committee and accusing them of being afraid to challenge beer wholesalers, distributors and retailers.

Len Foxwell, Franchot’s chief of staff, repeated those concerns Wednesday.

“While every other state in our region is improving its laws in order to attract more craft brewers, Maryland’s legislature is still out there doing the bidding of the corporate beer monopoly,” Foxwell said. “They could literally pitch Bud, Miller and Coors for sponsorship of this blue ribbon panel, or whatever they’re calling this thing.”

The legislation would create a 21-member task force charged with reviewing state alcohol laws, alcohol’s effects on public health and the state economy, and enforcement of alcohol laws in Maryland and in other states. It would include one member of the public appointed by the governor, representatives of the alcohol manufacturing, distribution and retail industries, representatives of craft brewers and wineries, public health experts, and lawmakers of both parties.

The task force would come on the heels of Franchot’s “Reform on Tap” task force, which he called together last year after efforts to revise state beer laws failed in the 2017 General Assembly Session. Its recommendations included calls for broadening or eliminating limits on sales at microbreweries and taprooms

Some lawmakers who opposed Franchot’s proposal suggested it was inappropriate that the state official responsible for enforcing state alcohol laws, designed to promote temperance, was advocating for the alcohol industry.

Franchot has meanwhile become a hero of the craft beer industry — with two breweries naming varietals in his honor.

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