FRANKFORT — A House committee approved a bill Tuesday that would allow free samples of bourbon at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games this fall, but the distillery industry wasn't happy with a change that ends the measure Oct. 31.
Questions immediately arose about the constitutionality of the amended bill, and efforts began to change it when the full House considers the bill Wednesday. Democratic Rep. Linda Belcher of Shepherdsville, a co-sponsor of House Bill 6, said an amendment was being drafted to delete the Oct. 31 sunset.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said late Tuesday he believed sunsetting the sampling bill would violate Gov. Steve Beshear's intent when he put the measure on the agenda of this week's special legislative session.
Beshear, who is the sole person who can set the agenda for the session, wanted a permanent license for bourbon tastings.
After the House Licensing and Occupations Committee added the expiration date to the measure on an 11-0 vote with five passes, Beshear said the legislation "may undergo a number of changes between now and Friday."
"It's premature to discuss any issues regarding constitutionality before seeing the final version of the bill," he said.
Ben Jenkins, a spokesman for the Washington-based Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, said such tastings "are a widely accepted practice, and we're disappointed with the limitations in the committee substitute and feel they will not provide sufficient opportunity for Kentucky's distillers — one of the state's signature industries — to showcase their products."
Another co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, said she believes the bill was changed to kill it as it moves through the General Assembly.
She claimed that House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, was seeking "his vengeance" because distillers in the state have not put enough pressure on the Senate to pass his proposal to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages at state parks.
The Kentucky Distillers Association always has supported Clark's proposal, said Kentucky Distillers' Association president Eric Gregory.
Clark described Westrom's claim that he is trying to kill the bill as "a falsehood."
"If I really wanted to kill the bill, I would have added the state parks provision," he said. "Our main objective is to get the bourbon samplings at the World Equestrian Games."
After the Tuesday committee vote, Gregory said hundreds of conferences across the state have asked for complimentary bourbon samplings and the bill as changed by the committee would only address the World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington and the National Conference of State Legislatures gathering in July in Louisville.
Without a permanent law, the Distillers Association will not reconsider its decision to drop a $100,000 sponsorship of the Games, Gregory said.
Committee Chairman Dennis Keene, D-Wilder, said the governor was wrong when he said leaders of the House and Senate were in agreement on the proposed bourbon sampling bill. The governor was in "Kumbayah land," Keene said.
Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said before the House committee meeting Tuesday the bill should not have an expiration date.
"People are just playing games with this bill if they don't make it permanent," he said.
Besides adding the expiration date, the House committee changed the bill to require samplings be conducted on locations of at least 15,000 square feet and in counties with a population of at least 70,000 that have approved the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday.
The panel also made the legislation applicable to wineries.