Ohio: Proposed legislation could ban Ohio bars, restaurants and breweries supported by alcohol sales from admitting anyone under 21
January 26, 2020
In its current form, a bill sitting in the Ohio Senate would effectively ban bar/restaurants – like craft breweries with kitchens and taprooms – from allowing anyone under the age of 21 to set foot in the establishment, specifically those where a lion’s share of sales comes from alcohol.
According to the Ohio Craft Brewers Association trade group, such a law, which could be established under Ohio Senate Bill 115, could have a negative impact on Ohio’s craft breweries, which often try to design and market themselves as family-friendly. The state currently has 328 independent craft breweries in operation and at least 72 more known to be in planning stages, as pointed out in our recent State of the Brew-nion.
An aide for the legislation’s primary sponsor, Sen. Tina Maharath (D-District 3), said the bill is likely to be revamped and that businesses themselves won’t even be the target of the legislation.
However, those changes haven’t happened yet. That’s causing worry for some members of the OCBA.
SB 115 was introduced in early 2019, motivated by Maharath’s interest in reducing underage alcohol consumption. According to sponsor testimony at the time, Maharath was going after an Ohio law that allows individuals younger than 21 to possess and consume alcohol under the supervision of a parent or guardian – something none of Ohio’s neighboring states allows.
Maharath wants to get rid of that law.
Per January 2019 testimony, Maharath stated: Even though the legal drinking age is 21, people aged 12 to 20 drink 13% of all alcohol in the United States. Youth who began drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who wait until the age of 21. According to the Ohio Department of Education, more than 90% of that consumption is in the form of binge drinking. The 2018 Ohio State Report on Underage Drinking Prevention and Enforcement shows that 21.9% of people between the ages of 12 to 20 consumed alcohol within the past month.
At some point, the bill evolved into its current form with provisions banning any establishment with 60% or more of gross sales in alcohol from allowing people under 21 to come inside.
But it’s unclear exactly how that would be viewed in the eyes of the law, such as whether a business’s off-premises and distribution sales would be factored into that mix.
A brewery with a heavy focus on its restaurant might be exempt. Great Lakes Brewing Co., for example, gets 57% of its business from food and 43% from beer, wine and liquor sales.
Bars and breweries with small kitchens, or even those that outsource their food service to food truck operators or another business – like Cleveland’s Terrestrial Brewing Co., which is sandwiched between condos and Edgewater Park and features a satellite kitchen run by local-favorite taco joint La Plaza Taqueria – would likely not qualify for the exemption.
The OCBA does not track industrywide figures for splits in sales between food and booze in the craft beer business. However, deputy director Justin Hemminger said he suspects 80% or more of its breweries would not meet the exception, assuming wholesale alcohol receipts count toward the calculation.
Here’s how Hemminger explained the situation from the OCBA perspective: Our member breweries are committed to promoting responsible and legal consumption of the beers they produce. One of the factors that has helped many craft breweries differentiate themselves is the ability to cultivate a family-friendly environment in the taproom during certain business hours. It is still against the law for a brewery – or any other alcohol retailer – to sell alcohol to an underage person, but this bill would make it a crime for minors to enter a permit holder’s establishment even if they are accompanied by a parent.
Affected permit holders right now under SB 115 include those with A1a, A1c, A2f, A3a or D liquor permits.
Maharath’s senior legislative aide indicated there’s been some backlash since the impacts on bar/restaurants were worked into the bill, and SB 115’s current form is unlikely to move forward. What’s more likely is the bill will be revamped to focus on closing the Ohio law allowing parents and guardians to furnish alcohol to underage people.
As it stands now, though, SB 115 still has bar/restaurants in its crosshairs.
“SB 115 would have a detrimental effect on Ohio’s craft brewing industry,” Hemminger said. “We will continue to work with Sen. Maharath and her colleagues in the Senate to educate them about how Ohio breweries positively impact their communities.”