Alcohol-selling businesses to get more warnings instead of citations

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission begins using new standards for certain violations starting on Friday, Sept. 15.

TABC’s new enforcement system is warning-based, “designed to encourage voluntary compliance with state liquor laws among businesses which manufacture, distribute, or sell alcoholic beverages.”

Spokesperson Chris Porter said the policy does not affect violations related to public safety, such as over-serving or serving to minors.

“It’s our belief that this new policy will allow us to issue more warnings and file fewer cases, and that will hopefully have the result of keeping people in business without the added costs of court costs and fees and things like that,” Porter said.

“We’re hoping that this new policy will allow us to write more warnings as opposed to having to institute those stricter penalties,” he said.

Bob Woody has owned businesses that serve alcohol in downtown Austin on historic Sixth Street for more than three decades.

“I think it’s forward thinking, I support it, and it’s typical that the things that we do down here transcend across the state, so usually if Sixth Street can swallow it most of Texas can too,” Woody said.

As president of the East Sixth Street Community Association (ESSCA), he was looking forward to informing his members about the TABC changes.

“Bad players are going to continue to do it,” he explained. “Obviously, if you break the rules enough times there are things that are in place where you’re going – the offense is going to be dealt with if you can’t learn from it.”

Businesses that receive a warning under the new system will be “subject to follow-up inspections by TABC officials to ensure the business remains in compliance,” the agency said.

According to TABC, “repeat violations of a similar nature within 24 months of the original violation could result in stricter penalties such as fines or a suspension of the business’ liquor license.”

TABC records indicated in fiscal year 2017, the agency filed 200 cases and issued 320 warnings. TABC filed 252 cases and issued 326 warnings in FY 2016.

Porter expects those warnings numbers to rise after the implementation of the enforcement policies.

“About 95 percent [of licensed businesses] are in full compliance with the law, and they’re doing a great job, keeping the public safe, and they’re getting everything done they need to do,” he said.

“For the remaining 5 percent, we feel like this will hopefully get them back into compliance, and back into observation of the law and staying in business,” Porter explained.

He said he was not sure of immediate impacts on other resources, but mentioned the policy would allow TABC to focus on issues related to public safety.

“The source of citations is definitely part of our budget, but wasn’t one of… the top contributors,” Porter said. “Most of TABC’s budget is through excise taxes and licensing fees, and things of that nature.”

Porter said for most businesses, if there are violations, it’s an oversight or a mistake instead of being intentional.

“We’re hoping that this new program will give us the ability to educate them about what the code says, and get them back into compliance without having to possibly interrupt their business or affect their employees or customers,” Porter stated.

Woody said he does not expect customers to notice any difference for a few years.

“I think at the end of the day it probably just sustains what we have more than anything,” he added.

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