Gerald “Bird” Smith (2000-2004)
Steve Warmington (2004-2005)
Rick Roberson (2005-2012)
Rick Swindlehurst (2012-Present)
At the turn of the century, the MLBA knew there were several long, hard battles to be fought. A total smoking ban of public places was always lurking around the corner, but — even with the MLBA’s rigorous efforts to leave the option of a smoking or non-smoking establishment up to the business owners — Michigan’s Smoke-Free Air Law took effect May 1, 2010.
This hard blow came after the 2006 recession, which struck the entire country and caused many establishments to close their doors for good. The recession coupled with the smoking ban created a great deal of havoc to the hospitality industry. Many businesses have had to adapt their hours of operation, or their entire business model, in order to endure the harsh economic climate.
However, tough times have never meant the MLBA slowed its pace in the fight to ensure positive movement for the hospitality industry.
In the early 2000s, Gov. Jennifer Granholm proposed an increase to liquor and cigarette taxes, already significantly higher than surrounding states. The MLBA successfully fought this proposal.
The association has also fought several proposals from MADD regarding ignition interlock systems. Ideally, MADD would like ignition interlocks to come standard in all vehicles, but for now they want them included in all drunk driving offenses — from first time offenders to the “super drunk.” We’ve been successful in staving off all their attempts and their use has only been administered at the discretion of the trial judge for those with multiple offenses.
The MLBA also fought for clearer guidelines and penalties regarding the “super drunk” legislation. Members were able to compromise on the current system by mitigating the preventionalists’ hopes of a lower BAC to be considered “super drunk.” Members were also effective in reforming the decoy operations policy to make more favorable for retailers.
We were key in implementing the 0.08 BAC sunset clause in 2003 that states the legal BAC will revert back to .010 in 10 years. When the sunset clause was reviewed in 2013 and legislators wanted it removed, the MLBA was able to explain why there was no reason to remove it as this is an issue that needs to be reviewed as time passes.
Through efforts to reform the liquor code, the MLBA worked with the MLCC to approve intra-county transfers of on-premises licenses within the same county. This helped to increase the value of on-premises liquor licenses. Also, the initial fee for resort licenses was increased to $20,000, which automatically increased the value of all escrowed on-premises licenses as well.
To better assist members and their customers, the MLBA supported the 2010 catering bill which allowed on-premises licensees to deliver and serve alcohol to off-premises events — thereby creating a one-stop-shop for their customers. This has helped many establishments grow their customer base and enable their businesses to thrive.
Members were also instrumental in the upswing to Michigan tourism. In 2006, the MLBA encouraged the state to begin a promotional campaign to encourage residents to vacation more in Michigan and also bring in more out-of-state tourists. This campaign would later become known as Pure Michigan, with ads seen across the country. In 2014, Pure Michigan helped bring in $1.2 billion from out-of-state visitors alone.
There were even more shake-ups in the beginning of the new decade as the economy slowly began to improve and the MLBA office began its modernization process. The MLBA magazine, known as The Beverage Journal, was revamped and renamed Michigan Hospitality Review. The Review was expanded to heighten its focus on Michigan while still showcasing a national perspective.
When Gov. Rick Snyder took office, he immediately started reviewing areas that needed to be updated and the Michigan Liquor Code was one of these areas.
The Governor created the Office of Regulatory Reform (ORR) and within that the statewide workgroup to create recommendations on how to modernize the Liquor Code. Members of the MLBA were among those selected by the Governor himself, and in 2011 the ORR Report was released and many changes came quickly.
Some of the changes from the ORR recommendations were to allow tastings at on- and off-premises locations to better facilitate sales for licensees. The introduction of the growler bill allowed all on-premises licensees to purchase a special permit to fill growlers of beer for their patrons — something many establishments had been eager to provide. For licensees buying licensed businesses, the conditional license allowed owners to open their doors in a more timely manner without having to wait for the MLCC review process.
After decades of waiting, the MLBA was able to come to a compromise on secondary use. Certain logoed promotional items can now be utilized by on-premises establishments to promote the products they sell. The 2004 opinion from Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox to allow lighted signs within establishments was one of the key factors that came into play when negotiating the compromise.
Combined with the secondary use bill were a handful of microbrewer bills. Because popularity within the craft beer industry arose so quickly, there were many updates that needed to be made to facilitate the growth of the industry. The MLBA also worked with legislators to increase the allowable number of barrels each microbrewer could produce, and also allowed the smaller microbrewers to self-distribute their products to local establishments. The MLBA was more than happy to assist our industry partners in this effort.
Things were also changing for MLBA partners TAM® and the MLBA Limited Liability Pool. In 2001, the MLBA Limited Liability Pool became the MLBA Mutual Insurance Company, where policy holders became shareholders of the company.
MLBA Mutual shareholders agreed to a merger with Conifer Insurance Company in December 2012. The MLBA has since partnered with Conifer to offer discounts and other benefits to our members. The merger was bittersweet, but the MLBA is always working to create beneficial partnerships with other industry leaders.
After the merger, the MLBA needed to downsize its home office space. The two-story building on Fairview Ave. was sold in 2014 and the MLBA returned to its roots in downtown Lansing after almost two decades. With the push to modernize, the MLBA felt as though the move would facilitate lobbying efforts for our members.
In 2000, MLBA took back control of TAM® from the NLBA, and the National Hospitality Institute (NHI), a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, was founded as the educational arm of the MLBA. Under NHI, the association has been able to offer other valuable programs such as New Licensee Training Seminars, Bar Management Certification, Liquor Law Enforcement Seminars, Festival and Event Training, and most recently Food Safety Certification.
In April 2014, the TAM® Online Training Program was approved by the MLCC. This enables Michigan licensees and their employees to take the TAM® training course at their own pace and convenience online instead of having to wait for a class in their area.
Today, TAM® is one of the leading alcohol server training programs in the country. It is offered in 32 states and approximately 13,000 students are trained each year.