Legislative allies of the powerful liquor lobby, in a rarely used procedural move, sidetracked a bill Friday that would require health warning labels on all alcoholic beverage containers.
The bill by Assemblyman Lloyd Connelly (D-Sacramento), which narrowly cleared the Assembly Health Committee earlier this week, would warn pregnant women about the dangers of alcohol-related birth defects.
But when it reached the Assembly floor, Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) objected that the measure had been improperly amended into a bill that dealt with a different subject. Such a maneuver is a violation of the Assembly's procedures, but one that occurs frequently without objection as lawmakers search for ways to enact their proposals into law. Connelly acknowledged the error and effectively killed his bill by placing it in the inactive file, but he pledged to find an appropriate bill for the labeling proposal in coming weeks.
"It's an effort by the liquor lobby to obstruct it on the floor," Connelly told reporters.
The proposal would require all alcoholic beverage containers to be labeled: "Warning: Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause birth defects, miscarriage and low birth weight."
The measure has the backing of more than 70 health and consumer groups, including the March of Dimes, the PTA, the California Medical Assn. and Consumers Union.
The liquor industry, which last session gave more than $700,000 to state lawmakers, is one of the most influential groups in the Capitol. Earlier this year, it successfully lobbied for defeat of a similar labeling bill in the Senate Health Committee.
As an alternative to putting warning labels on alcoholic beverage containers, lobbyists representing the liquor industry have offered to begin a "voluntary eduction program" to warn pregnant women of the dangers. However, they have not specified how much money they would spend or when the program would begin.
Jim Shultz, a lobbyist for Consumers Union, angrily denounced the effort to derail the bill on a procedural basis, saying, "It should be clear to everyone that the liquor lobby wants to avoid an Assembly debate on the merits of this issue."