Time is running out for Texas brewers. There's only about a month left of the 86th Texas Legislature, and that means there's little chance that a law would pass allowing for beer-to-go sales at the state's manufacturing breweries. But advocates have a chance: an amendment attached to a crucial bill going up for a vote Thursday.
State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, plans to propose an amendment to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission sunset bill that would, like his House Bill 672, permit brewery customers to take home up to 576 ounces of beer per day — or the equivalent of two cases. Texas brewpubs, distilleries and wineries can already sell their products on site for at-home consumption.
So far, Rodriguez's bill has yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing. The bill will die if it isn't passed out of committee by May 6, Rodriguez said.
"I have decided to propose a beer-to-go amendment to the TABC sunset bill because it is the only remaining path forward for the long-overdue reform this session," he said. "I believe that the members of the Texas House deserve a vote on this popular, bipartisan proposal, and my beer-to-go amendment will provide them with the opportunity."
The amendment is beneficial for brewers, Texas Craft Brewers Guild director Charles Vallhonrat said. It means "the broader House" can vote on the issue without having to wait on the committee hearing that HB 672 requires.
"We've done everything that we set out to do to get awareness for these bills — getting the issue added to both party platforms last year, getting our petition signed by over 14,000 people — and we were happy to have multiple stakeholders support this bill," he said. "Given the fact we can't get a committee hearing, getting an amendment to the TABC sunset bill is our best bet at this late in the game."
The sunset bill is a big deal in more ways than one. Each state agency — including the TABC, which has been beset by scandal in recent years — is evaluated every 12 years by the Sunset Advisory Commission for its efficacy and necessity and given crucial recommendations for improvement. It's now reckoning time for the TABC, and critics say there is certainly a lot to fix when it comes to the "state's byzantine alcohol policies," according to the Texas Tribune.
One such policy, brewers have argued for years, is the beer-to-go ban in their taprooms. Every other state in the country allows breweries to sell their beer to go, Rodriguez said.
So the stakes on Thursday will be high. As the Tribune noted, the entire Legislature must approve the sunset bill, which contains key reforms, for the TABC to stay up and running. Among the changes to law, according to Vallhonrat, are other issues that Texas brewers care about, including a streamlined label approval process and the removal of a distinction between "beer" and "ale" that requires brewers to acquire multiple permits.
"We're very supportive of the sunset bill," he said.
Texas brewers seemed closer than ever earlier this year to their goal of beer-to-go sales when one of the biggest beer-to-go opponents, the Beer Alliance of Texas, compromised with the guild, resulting in a reworked HB 672 and its Senate companion, SB 312. But the powerful industry group Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, another opponent, chose not to join the compromise.
For Rodriguez, beer-to-go sales have become a priority "because of the difference it would make to small businesses in my district and across the state," he said. "There are 16 breweries and brewpubs in District 51 that hire local residents, have built local facilities and give back to the communities they serve, but the Texas craft beer industry continues to be held back by the state’s outdated alcohol laws."