Beshear baffled over bourbon bill blow-up

05/27/2010 11:42 AM

Gov. Steve Beshear

(UPDATED 12:33 p.m.) FRANKFORT — One day after the House’s version of a bourbon bill failed, Gov. Steve Beshear echoed the confusion of many as to why the bill couldn’t get off the House floor.

“It’s hard to figure out what the problem is,” Beshear said. “I talked to both the Senate president and the House speaker and they both asked privately and publicly to put (the bill) on the call because they said they had the votes to pass it.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he told the governor he would vote for it but didn’t ask for it to be part of the special session agenda.

But he expressed similar frustration with the brouhaha that has developed over the bill, which has passed the House three times before during the spring’s regular session.

And on Thursday he pointed the finger at the distillers’ association that lobbies on behalf of the industry.

The bill, which was supposed to allow bourbon tasting at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games this fall, suffered a setback during a House committee debate Tuesday. Then, in a surprise move, the version of the bill that committee approved was retracted from the floor Wednesday by Rep. Dennis Keene, a Wilder Democrat. The bill failed in a 43-51 vote.

While the bill was failing in the House, the Senate passed its own bourbon bill, keep alive some hopes that a measure would pass by the legislature by the end of the session.

Stumbo said shortly after noon that the fate of the Senate bill was uncertain. He was critical of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association for wanting more than what lawmakers had agreed to do: pass a bill to temporarily allow bourbon tasting for special events this fall. The association sought to make it permanent.

“The industry has been disingenuous about its request,” Stumbo said. “There was some overeaching and it was up to the industry to garner the support and they obviously didn’t.”

Rep. Larry Clark, a Louisville Democrat, was the one who suggested changes in to the bill in Tuesday’s committee meeting and has been in the middle of the wrangling over it. He said in order for the bourbon bill to be revived in the House, the distillery industry would need to come to Frankfort and reach a deal with House leadership.

“There’s no compromise with them that I know of,” Clark said.

Clark said much of the concern for those that opposed the legislation was the reach outside of the fall’s World Equestrian Games.

“The proliferation of alcohol across the state (was a concern),” Clark said. “And (those who voted “No”) wanted more control over it.”

- Kenny Colston

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