Kentucky_state_capitol_buildingThe Kentucky state House approved two bills last night affecting the regulation of businesses, one freeing up phone companies to discontinue investment in basic landlines and another reaffirming the state’s three-tier system on the suppliers, distributors and retailers of beer.

HB 168 — commonly referred to as the “Beer Bill” in Kentucky’s ongoing spat between craft brewers and Belgian-based corporate giant A-B InBev — passed the House 67-31 with bipartisan support. While more than 30 members of the two major parties voted for the bill, 14 Republicans and 17 Democrats also voted against it.

The regional breakdown of the vote highlighted A-B InBev’s concern that it would be forced to sell its distributorships in Louisville and Owensboro. Both cities’ chambers of commerce opposed the legislation, as did the Teamsters union in Louisville, saying it would lead 175 workers to lose their jobs. All but three of Louisville’s Democratic delegation voted against the bill, including Representatives Tom Burch, Denver Butler, Larry Clark, Jeff Donohue, Dennis Horlander, Joni Jenkins, Charles Miller, Darryl Owens, Steve Riggs and Jim Wayne. Owensboro Democrats Jim Glenn and David Watkins also voted no.

An amendment filed by Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, to exempt A-B InBev’s Louisville and Owensboro distributorships was defeated by a narrow margin, despite the support of the previously mentioned Democrats who voted against the final bill.

Supporters of the legislation — which include a number of craft breweries, the Kentucky Beer Wholesalers, MillerCoors and four local chambers across the state — have reason to be hopeful for their chances in the Senate. Senate Majority Floor Leader  Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, told The Courier-Journal after the vote that he is concerned about A-B InBev having a monopoly in Kentucky that would destroy the three-tier system, while noting that the founders of a craft brewery advocating for the bill are his constituents.

Landline deregulation approved

While the so-called “AT&T Bill” has been blocked by House Democrats repeatedly in recent years, HB 152 passed yesterday by a wide 71-25 margin that included 31 Democrats. The bill would end Public Service Commission regulation of landlines in urban and suburban areas. Supporters say that would allow phone companies to invest more in broadband technology, while opponents contend it will strip landline service from roughly 11,000 Kentuckians, lead to total deregulation of the industry, and do nothing to actually guarantee broadband investment.

A majority of the 25 votes against HB 152 were urban Democrats — nine in Louisville alone — while four were eastern Kentucky Republicans concerned about the cost and reliability of rural services under the law.

Gov. Steve Beshear praised the House in a news release following the vote, calling the bill “an important piece of legislation that strikes a right balance between providing consumer protection and creating economic development opportunities that result from robust broadband accessibility in communities all across the Commonwealth.”

As the Lexington Herald-Leader’s John Cheves noted, AT&T has spent more than $183,000 lobbying the General Assembly since last year, and its PAC has donated $112,800 in contributions to Kentucky politicians since 2010.

The state Senate already approved its own version of the bill, virtually guaranteeing it will be enacted into law.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]