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Nebraska brewers say proposed legislation will kill local beer

Friday, local craft breweries and hundreds of supporters of small beer teamed up to send a message to lawmakers, by having a #Don'tKillOurCraft Party.

They say newly proposed legislation is an attack on Nebraska’s craft brewers.

"We're fighting for just the laws that sit today, just leave us alone. We didn't ask for anything. Just leave our industry alone," said Cody Schmick, owner of Kinkaider Brewing company in Broken Bow.

Back in 2016, Senator Tyson Larson introduced legislation that took regulations off the craft brew industry. This allowed the industry to grow, by allowing brewers to have up to 5 retail locations. Now, that same senator is saying the law is unconstitutional.

"There is a U.S. Supreme Court case called Granholm v. Heald that essentially says that you cannot give benefits to an in state company, or in this instance brewery, benefits an out of state business would not have," Senator Larson. "The ability for an instate brewery to self-distribute to a location that does not have production is a benefit that out of state breweries cannot have.”

Now, Senator Larson wants to change the law he helped pass. If approved legislative bill 632 would mandate that businesses only sell beer where they brew it, something local beer makers say will kill the industry.

"It's really important to us, because Kinkaider just announced our second retail location right here in Grand Island," said Schmick.

Schmick says installing production equipment in every retail location is not financially possible for a small business owner.

"Equipment is extremely expensive. We have all this equipment in Broken Bow and we're brewing beer. We have a lot of dollars invested there. In order for us to put an entirely new setup in this location, there's one space restrictions, and two it's just a financial strain and we couldn't really make it work," said Schmick.

The bill also requires local breweries to send their beer to a distribution warehouse before it can be delivered to retailers.

"Personally, I'm of the mindset that the less legislation that you push on small businesses the better. It's already difficult enough to be a small business," said Schmick.

Some say this legislation only benefits big beer companies, and question Senator Larsons' motivations.

According to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, in 2015 Senator Larson received more than $12,000 in contributions from big beer distribution companies and Anheuser-Busch, the makers of several beers including Budweiser.

Senator Larson says those donations did not influence his decision to propose this change to the law, and he doesn't believe it will harm local beer makers.

"I don't see it having that much of an impact at all. I understand they have rhetoric that they day it'll have impact. In the end, they still get to have their five locations," said Senator Larson.

But business owners like Schmick don't see it that way.

The public hearing for this bill is Monday, February 13.

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