Last month, state senators introduced a bill backed by Georgia's growing craft brewing industry that would allow breweries to sell beer directly to the public. A committee hearing on the bill is expected this week, but one of the bill's co-sponsors, Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville), says the keg of hope may have been over-pumped.
"They're looking at that, and hopefully we'll be able to move it forward," said Ginn, vice chairman of the Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, which is handling SB 63. "I will say the bill has an uphill climb, because it's not fully in synch with the three-tier system we have in state law."
Under that post-Prohibition system—set up back then in part to make newly legalized alcohol easily taxable—breweries can only sell beer to wholesalers, who in turn sell it to bars, restaurants and retail stores, who sell it to individuals. Among the obstacles facing SB 63 are Department of Revenue questions about how taxes would be collected on breweries' direct sales, Ginn said. (Although he said he hasn't spoken to any interest groups about the bill, the alcohol distributors' lobby is a powerful one.)
The three-tier system has set up a charade by which breweries offer tours and 32 ounces of free samples, in exchange for which consumers purchase a souvenir glass. Advocates say the added revenue from selling beer directly to tour-goers, as well as cases of beer to take home—in spite of being a drop in the pint glass in the grand scheme of beer sales—would spur more craft breweries in a state that ranks near the bottom of the rapidly growing industry. SB 63, known as the "Beer Jobs Bill," would let breweries sell up to 72 ounces for on-premises consumption, and 144 ounces (a 12-pack) to take home.
"This bill, not only does it help in economic development, but it also has a big impact on tourism," Ginn said. That especially holds true in Athens, home to two craft breweries already, with a third on the way. But in North Carolina, where blue laws are much more progressive, the comparably sized city of Asheville has 21 craft breweries. Guess which place a beer snob would rather spend a weekend?
The Trashinator: I, for one, welcomed our new robot trash-collection overlords—until a few weeks ago, when one of the ACC Solid Waste Department's newfangled trucks became aware and decided that my receptacle was the enemy.
As Flagpole reported last year, Solid Waste purchased eight new trucks, at a cost of $1.9 million, equipped with robotic arms that pick up receptacles and dump the contents into the back. They require only a driver, rather than a two- or three-man crew, saving the city $500,000 annually. (As you might imagine, turnover among garbagemen is high, and ACC slashed those jobs through attrition with no layoffs.)
Well, a few weeks ago, the TrashBot 3000 terminated one of my cans. Solid Waste promptly replaced it, and human collaborator Suki Janssen gently chided me that, as is so often the case, I was doing it wrong.
And so I pass this on to you, that you may not walk in my footsteps: Place your rollcarts on the curb, two feet apart from each other, unblocked by parked vehicles, with the handles and wheels facing away from the curb. Good luck, and godspeed.
School Takeover: Through his floor leaders, Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed legislation allowing the state to take over what he's termed "failing" schools—including one in Athens.
Deal's plan for a statewide "Opportunity School District," governed by a superintendent reporting directly to him, could sweep in up to 100 schools over a five-year period that have scored less than 60 out of 100 on the College and Career Ready Performance Index, a state yardstick based on test scores, graduation rates and achievement gap.
"If you are three years an 'F' school, and you have not shown any progress in that regard, then I think something is wrong. I don't think anybody would say that you would sacrifice the future of children at the stake of having local control," Deal told conservative WSB radio host Erick Erickson.
One hundred forty-seven schools are eligible for takeover. One of them is Gaines Elementary, which had CCRPI scores of 50.4, 52.7 and 50.1 in 2012–2014.
Clarke County School District spokeswoman Anisa Sullivan Jimenez noted that the CCRPI formula keeps changing, that Gaines has never been flagged by the state and that CCSD is already engaged in reform by launching a charter district where individual schools will be handed more autonomy. (There's a forum on the charter district at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19 at the Athens Community Career Academy on the H.T. Edwards campus at Broad Street and Hancock Avenue, if you want to know more.)
"Superintendent [Philip] Lanoue feels strongly that local districts are in the best position to retain control and implement initiatives in their schools," Jiminez said. "We know our needs more than anyone and have already begun exploring ideas such as early reading initiatives at Gaines."
She also pointed me to a column State School Superintendent Richard Woods wrote praising teachers and administrators after a recent visit to Gaines and to Cedar Shoals High School. "I can promise you that any individual who had spent some time in these schools would have walked away labeling these schools as model schools with CCRPI scores in the 80s or 90s and would be shocked to learn that they are in the 50s," Woods wrote.
ICYMI: We reported on this last April, when plans were filed, but people have been asking me what's going on at the Armstrong & Dobbs property, since the old graffiti-covered ruins have been demolished.
After Selig Enterprises withdrew its much-maligned plans due to financing woes, Athens-based student housing developer Landmark Properties stepped in to partner with Selig. The resulting development, dubbed The Mark—890 apartment bedrooms, 60,000 square feet of commercial space and 1,200 parking spaces—is slightly smaller than but very similar to the Selig proposal. One important difference (and a major flaw) is that an access road into the development from Oconee Street will not run all the way through to East Broad, so it will provide little connectivity between downtown/East Athens and campus.
Unlike Selig, Landmark is building the development by right in accordance with the ACC zoning code, with no commission vote required on any aspect. Not that it matters—although the development will loom over a major gateway into the city and will continue the widely unpopular student-ication of downtown, it won't include a Walmart, so who cares?