Once on its deathbed, ‘beer to go’ survives another day at the State Capitol

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas craft brewers and their supporters in the State Capitol grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat Thursday night, in a bizarre turn of events.

The policy idea known as “beer to go” would chip away at the tiered system that separates those who make, move, and sell beer.

It is illegal in Texas for breweries to sell beer for people to walk away with. A coalition of reformers hopes to make another change to beer laws in Texas, some of the most stringent in the country. 

The ‘beer to go’ bill was heading for a slow, deadline-driven death: still waiting for a public hearing in the Texas House Licensing and Administrative procedures committee chaired by Batesville Democrat Tracy King.

A similar bill has also stalled in the Texas Senate.

So supporters, led by Austin Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, successfully attached the ‘beer to go’ policy to a required overhaul and reauthorization of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, known as the agency’s “sunset bill.” It effectively passed the House Thursday night.

Not without a little drama.

The motion to attach the ‘beer to go’ language was originally voted down 72 to 71. As the case with close votes, a lawmaker asked for a ‘vote verification’ or a seat by seat recount of the 150 lawmakers. During that recount, lawmakers determined that eight House members were not in the room to vote. The votes of Harold Dutton, D-Houston; Drew Darby, R-San Angelo; Jessica Farrar, D-Houston; Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio; Ana Hernandez, D-Houston; Dan Huberty, R-Houston; John Smithee, R-Amarillo; and Alex Dominguez, D-Brownsville; did not count.

The ‘beer to go’ language was amended to the sunset bill and the measure passed the House. 

Adam DeBower from Austin Beerworks helped get the idea into both party platforms and submit a 15,000 person petition. Thursday, he sat in the Texas House gallery with a “beer to go” shirt and pin, watching his effort pull off an upset.

“I’m feeling incredibly gratified, really excited, and really proud of our state representatives here in the greater Austin area and all across Texas,” said DeBower.

The group DeBower has a leadership role in, the Texas Craft Brewers Association, made an alliance with beer distributing advocates — who are prolific political donors — the Beer Alliance. 

However, the other prolific political donor beer distributing group —the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas — is still against it. They didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday but in the past, Tom Spilman from the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas told KXAN:

“We will continue to defend the Texas system which emphasizes fair free market competition and has created the healthiest, most competitive beer market in the world…The claim that manufacturers can’t sell beer to-go is untrue. It is only a handful of the states largest manufacturers that cannot, which is in-line within most states.”

“They are a very large voice in this building,” said DeBower.

Beer to go was referred by Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen to the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee, chaired by Batesville Democrat Tracy King. King has not held a public hearing on the bill and its supporters say it likely won’t before a May 6 House deadline that will officially kill it.

Chairman King did not respond to a request for interview or comment Thursday.

In the past, opponents of beer to go were supporters of the “three-tiered system”: the controversial idea of ensuring the people who make, move, and sell beer don’t get into each other’s business. Three-tier system supporters say separating professions improve the health and safety of beer.

This now sets up crucial negotiations with the Texas Senate’s version of the TABC sunset bill in the days ahead. Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, is a member of the Sunset Committee and author of Senate beer to go bill. 

She tweeted Thursday night, “Job well done to @EddieforTexas and my #txlege colleagues who voted to support #beertogo and #Texas small businesses by adding our SB312/HB672 to the TABC Sunset bill.”

There are 31 days left to the 2019 Texas legislature.

It’s far too early to determine whether an idea will pass or die by the end. There is plenty of more political jockeying, deal-making, and negotiating to come. However, once thought dead, ‘beer to go’ is still alive — for now. 

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