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Two new alcohol laws take effect
Tighter on bouncers, looser on souvenir beer
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House Bill 152, sometimes informally called Michaels Law, resulted from the advocacy of Michael S. and Kathy Lee Gatto after their oldest child, Michael Joseph, 18, died from injuries received in a violent encounter with an off-duty bouncer at a Statesboro nightclub called Rude Rudys last August 28.

Two new Georgia laws that take effect today pertain to alcoholic beverages and have Statesboro connections.

One law makes 21 both the minimum age to work as a bouncer and also, with some loopholes, the minimum age to enter a “bar.” The other law lets breweries include up to 72 ounces of take-home beer in the price of a tour.

Both laws include other provisions. One includes a ban on the sale of powdered alcohol that might otherwise have been a law unto itself.


‘Michael’s Law’

A requirement that bouncers be at least 21 year old “might not sound like much, but it is,” said the late Michael J. Gatto’s father, also named Michael Gatto. The minimum drinking age was already 21, but bartenders in Georgia can be as young as 18 and until now there has been no specific minimum for bouncers.

“If you think of a place like Statesboro where over 70 percent of the student population cannot drink, if you have bouncers that are 18 and 19 that puts a lot of peer pressure on them to do the wrong thing and let underage drinkers in,” Gatto said in an email last week. “Having bouncers be 21 eliminates that to a large degree.”

House Bill 152, sometimes informally called Michael’s Law, resulted from the advocacy of Michael S. and Kathy Lee Gatto after their oldest child, Michael Joseph, 18, died from injuries received in a violent encounter with an off-duty bouncer at a Statesboro nightclub called Rude Rudy’s last August 28. He had arrived as a freshman at Georgia Southern University two weeks earlier.

The former bouncer, Grant James Spencer, then 20 and also a GSU student, is awaiting trial, charged with aggravated battery and felony murder.

The Gattos worked with legislators, particularly Rep. Geoff Duncan, a Republican from their hometown of Cumming, on reforms to Georgia’s alcoholic beverage laws.

Another provision of the new law makes 21 the minimum age to enter a bar, but defines bars as places that get 75 percent or more of their revenue from alcoholic beverages.

This definition of “bar” was already part of the bill as it passed the state House of Representatives, as was a clause to let someone under age 21 enter a bar when “accompanied by his or her, parent, guardian or spouse” 21 or older.

But to win passage of his bill in the Senate, Duncan agreed to a further exemption. This states that the 21 minimum age does not apply to a someone attending a live musical concert or live performing arts presentation “for which he or she has paid an admission charge.”

“We do not love that part of the bill, but compromises had to be made along the way,” Gatto said.


Powdered alcohol ban

Another provision the Senate added to the law bans the manufacture, use and sale of “powdered alcohol.” This means various substances that hold alcohol inside solid particles that can be mixed into a liquid or simply swallowed.

The law makes an exemption for research but specifically prohibits alcoholic beverage license holders from mixing or serving powdered alcohol.

Michael’s Law also sets new reporting requirements to make the Georgia Department of Revenue aware when a local government takes disciplinary action against a business that sells alcoholic beverages.

Under the previous law, cities and counties were supposed to report violations of their rules to the department. But the old law did not specify a reporting process. Very few cities or counties ever informed the state of local violations, Duncan said in an interview earlier this year.

The new law requires license holders to self-report any violation of local, state or federal alcohol laws, rules or regulations to the Department of Revenue within 45 days.

It also sets a 45-day deadline for cities and counties to report any violations within their jurisdiction. Every city or county is required to adopt a policy for reporting the violations to the state.

Gatto said he and his wife are very pleased with the overall content of the 2015 law. But they intend to pursue further legislation. They want the state to make 21 the minimum age for bartenders and to require liability insurance or bonding for places that serve alcohol and training for their employees.

“We are dedicated to following this through so that the state of Georgia is a safer place related to alcohol,” he said.


Brewery tours

While House Bill 152 tightens requirements on retailers, Senate Bill 63 loosens certain restrictions on brewers and distillers. After obtaining a special permit, they may now charge for tours and give away larger samples of their beverages – to consumers age 21 and over – as part of the experience.

Georgia law still prohibits brewers, including craft brewers such as Eagle Creek Brewing Co. in downtown Statesboro, from selling beer directly to consumers.

But Senate Bill 63 lets breweries send a “souvenir” quantity of beer home with adults who pay for a tour. The version that passed the House and was signed by Gov. Nathan Deal also gives craft brewers more of what they wanted than the original version approved by the Senate.

While it’s not exactly the “Beer Jobs Bill” that Eagle Creek owner Franklin Dismuke hoped for, it should help, he said.

“It doesn’t get us to the point where we would have been if we were able to operate freely and let the customer choose how much they want to buy, but it does help, and I’m hoping that we will be able to add a couple of jobs in the short term, at least for the taproom, because of the bill and what it allows us,” Dismuke said last week.

Specifically, the law allows a brewery to provide each tour participant up to 72 ounces of beer – the equivalent of a six-pack – to take home.

This emerged in the House as a compromise between the 144-ounce growlers the brewers had proposed and the Senate version’s 64-ounce limit.

Nor do all 72 ounces have to be in a single growler – a jug-like container – as long as the take-out beer is in one or more sealed containers. It could even be an actual six-pack.

As in the Senate-passed version, the final law also increases the amount of beer brewers can pour as samples for each person while on tour by four ounces, to 36 ounces.

Dismuke received his tour operations license last week and said Eagle Creek will hold a “ceremonial growler first pour” at noon today and then remain open for business.

Previously Eagle Creek opened for tours only on Friday and Saturday evenings. Dismuke now plans to add more tour days each week, including this week, but will close Saturday for the Fourth of July, he said.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.



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