Good Government

| August 24, 2016

Keith Burt, ABLE Commission Director, Upsets Local Craft Brewers

Just a few words from one government regulator sparked two weeks of turmoil for some Oklahoma businesses and frustration for state legislators and consumers. Oklahoma ABLE (Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement) Commission Director A. Keith Burt is a 40-year employee of Oklahoma state government. He leads the agency that, according to Article 28 of the Oklahoma Constitution, is charged with the responsibility and authority, “to enforce the alcoholic beverage laws of the state … and … to enforce such laws, rules and regulations as shall be prescribed by the Legislature.”

Currently, Oklahoma law does not allow Oklahoma brewers to sell their craft beers for consumption on their own premises unless it is “low-point” beer (less than 3.2 alcohol by weight). Standard beers can only be sold via state-licensed distributers and at licensed retail package stores.

Through the 2016 legislative session, bills were proposed, passed and signed with the purpose of reducing regulation of alcoholic beverages, especially beer. One such law is SB 424 by Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa.

According to the authors of SB 424, the law was intended to create parity for craft brewers with wineries. Oklahoma wineries are allowed serve their wines for consumption at the winery. SB 424 would allow local breweries to have tap rooms where they could sell the brews they make. Many Oklahoma craft brewers have invested heavily in anticipation of a planned celebration of SB 424, which is set to take effect this Friday.

Burt said that his agency has read the law differently, less than two weeks prior to enactment of the law.

“It doesn’t spell out that you can have on premise consumption,” he said, indicating that the position of his agency was that the newly built tap rooms across the state would still not be allowed to serve their beers.

Under pressure, Burt called upon Attorney General Scott Pruitt to provide an opinion clarifying the effect of the new law. To the relief of Oklahoma brewers and other supporters of SB 424, General Pruitt yesterday found that the law allows both sales and consumption of beer at breweries.

Burt began his career in state government in 1976. The ABLE Commission board appointed him as Director on October 4, 2002. Prior to his current position, he served as Deputy Director. The information page about Burt lists three gubernatorial appointments: Governor's task force on Underage Drinking, Tobacco Use Cessation Advisory Committee, and Governor’s Impaired Driving Prevention Advisory Council.

Despite recent revenue failures and budget cuts, Burt’s salary jumped to $121,536 in the current fiscal year from $109,808 in 2014, nearly an 11 percent increase.

The ABLE Commission operates under Secretary of Safety and Security Michael C. Thompson, a member of the Governor’s Cabinet, who also serves as Commissioner of the State Department of Public Safety.

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