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House committee gets a preview of big changes sought on alcohol

Beer. (Republic file photo)

PIERRE — The governor and some lawmakers want to rewrite many South Dakota laws on making, distributing and selling liquor, beer, wine and other alcohol and expand some, too.

The best part: They want it done before the legislative session ends March 26.

It's going to be a big fight that comes as Gov. Dennis Daugaard enters his final year.

Daugaard set things brewing months ago not long after the 2017 session ended.

He told the state Department of Revenue to start working with different parties about straightening out various parts of laws that seem inconsistent, are in conflict or need changes to keep pace with other states.

Those products appear in two proposals Revenue Secretary Andy Gerlach already filed. A third is coming directly from Daugaard.

Individual legislators also have been working on specific proposals. One lobbyist said Friday the bills count is past 20.

The first arena is the House Commerce and Energy Committee. Its chairman is Rep. Tim Rounds, R-Pierre. He's a brother of U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, who while governor saw South Dakota's alcohol laws expanded. Several Rounds brothers opened a liquor distillery.

In his role as chairman, Rep. Rounds held a preview for the committee Friday. It lasted about 35 minutes. He set the tone at the start.

"For years I've been waiting to see Chapter 35 cleaned up. It's a mess," he said.

Lobbyists for beer and liquor businesses sat throughout the room and watched from the doorway.

Revenue Department official Jason Evans took the witness chair and briefed the gathering about eight bills. The department introduced two, he said.

HB 1070 is 65 pages with 133 sections covering scores of changes proposed for manufacturing, distributing and retailing.

HB 1067 creates a second type of license for farm wineries.

Evans said a third measure still without a number is "a governor's bill" and covers beer breweries in South Dakota. Governor's aide Patrick Weber is handling it.

Evans identified five other bills by draft numbers. He said legislators would sponsor them.

Rounds said the committee should plan for "an alcohol day" of hearings on the bills.

Several beer lobbyists grumbled so loud they could be heard at the far side of the room, after Rounds described a proposal on distilling and cider making as a "cleanup." He later apologized.

Bob Riter, a Pierre lawyer representing the South Dakota Beer Distributors group, spoke to the committee after Evans finished.

Riter said a University of Delaware analysis estimated the "total economic impact" by the distributors at $226 million in South Dakota, including their 550 employees. He described the comments as "my cheerleading speech."

Some of South Dakota's alcohol laws are "outmoded" and should be changed, Riter said, but he also cautioned "it's good to know where you've been."

He noted one proposal would expand the ban against a business serving alcohol to an intoxicated person.

The need to attend a noon caucus ended the meeting a few minutes before the big clock's hands both pointed to 12.

"This is our start, folks," Rounds told the representatives around the U-shaped combination of tables. "And now you know why I wanted to get the discussion started today."

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