Del. Charles Barkley represents District 39 in Montgomery County and has been a member of the House of Delegates since 1999. He has also been the chair of the Alcoholic Beverages Subcommittee of the Economic Matters Committee for the House of Delegates since 2011.

It was an assignment, he shared with me recently, that probably had something to do with the fact that he does not drink.

“The [Speaker of the House of Delegates] gave me the subcommittee because I’m what some would call a ‘teetotaller,'” he said. “But over the past several years, I’ve learned a lot; and things have been changing.”

This fact is also why it might be a surprise to some that he was the champion of the Maryland craft brewers community, as the original sponsor of the now-dead House Bill 1420, dubbed as the Modern Brewery Bill.

Both the full bill and its analysis are available but in short, the original version of HB 1420 was a “rising tide raises all ships” bill. Maryland craft brewers would be able to grow their businesses on a much-deserved level playing field, Diageo/Guinness would be able to do business as planned, beer tourism across the state would blossom and sales had the potential to increase for all players across the board.

HB 1420 was also introduced alongside House Bill 1283 (the infamous repeal bill) – and a few others – as part of this General Assembly session’s legislative agenda pertaining to Maryland craft brewers, as well as Diageo/Guinness‘ desire to put down roots in Baltimore County.

Of course, not everyone wanted to see this kind of growth.

“The alcohol industry has been hard to move,” Barkley shared. “If wholesalers and retailers had their way, they wouldn’t change a thing.”

Which is why we’re now in the current situation we’re in, with HB 1283 – a repeal bill that pushes the Maryland craft beer industry backward. But how did this happen?

“We didn’t know what was in the bill until the day it came in front of our committee for the vote,” Barkley answered. But was that due to the rush of the process, or was it an intentional screen being put up around the bill’s contents?

“I don’t think they were trying to give out too many details,” he commented.

How does something like that happen? That question has been on the minds of many in the past few weeks. How did we come to this point, where Barkley – the subcommittee chair – and other House members felt blindsided by this bill?

“I honestly thought we were moving in the right direction with Nick Manis [MCA], Steve Wise [MSLBA legal counsel] and [Jack] Milani [MSLBA, Monaghan’s Pub in Baltimore]. We thought we were making progress, and we had the guys talking to us.”

Barkley then paused for a moment.

“All of a sudden, they quit talking to us,” he continued. “And then the [Economic Matters Committee] Chairman [Dereck E. Davis] said, ‘This is what we’re doing.'”

And by “this,” Davis meant the new version of HB 1283.

During his testimony last week during the bill’s Senate hearing, Davis asserted the accusations that negotiations for this bill were perpetrated in “smoke-filled backrooms” were completely contrary to reality – that everyone knew what was going on, including the brewers.

I asked Barkley about that and he said no, “Kevin [Atticks of the Brewers Association of Maryland] and the brewers did not know what was in that bill.”

He also stated that Diageo – though they had more input than most – also was in the dark.

I asked him his thoughts on some of the statements by House members who voted in favor of HB 1283 that they now know it was a bad bill or that they were misled on the contents ahead of the committee vote that pushed HB 1283 over to the Senate.

“I would say absolutely they were misled. [The House] thought we worked out a compromise and this was it. We hadn’t,” he stated.

“Up until this point, I ran the subcommittee and I kept my chairman [Davis] informed. But this one left my hands. I’ve never had this kind of intervention before, until this year. I thought [Manis, Wise and Milani] were meeting with us. But I think we were getting too close to stuff they didn’t want. So I think they met with the Speaker and got things changed.”

And the column that ran earlier this week in The Capital on HB 1283?

“I think it was accurate.”

Even though Barkley abstains from personal alcohol consumption, he still sees the potential of Maryland craft brewers and believes that it should be nurtured.

“I believe that the craft brewery industry is really growing,” he commented. “If you have something that’s growing and adding jobs to the community, why not let them grow? Why are you keeping them down? This makes no sense to me. This is about economic development; let them grow.”

* * *

The vote on this bill by the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee is imminent. Don’t wait – have your voice heard today.