With nearly a month to go in the 82nd Texas Legislature, HB 602 has been unchallenged in the House Licensing and Procedures Committee, on the House floor and quickly moved to the Senate and into the Senate Business and Commerce Committee.
This is a far cry from previous attempts at a similar bill over the last two sessions. In 2009, the proposal from Rep. Jessica Farrar made it out of the committee, but was chubbed to death as voter ID fights left other hopeful bills waiting in the wings. In 2007, the bill still made just as much sense, but the games legislators and powerful lobbyists play left it stranded in committee.
Now the bill has apparently paid its dues and previous opponents of the bill are no longer opposing it. The most likely reason is that they are trying to seem reasonable while making their untenable aguements against HB 660, the bill that would allow in-state brewpubs also sell beer off-premises through a distributor. There is a single dissenting voice on HB 660, the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, who make even the committee member scratch their heads. Yet the bill is stalled in committee and the chairman has told bill supporters including the Blue Star Brewing Co.'s Joey Villarreal that it isn't happening this year.
But changes in the law sometimes come in baby steps. HB 602 isn't being heard in the Senate committee it has been referred to this week, but has to wait in line along with about 200 other house bills referred to it in the last week. Still, there is a good chance that if not amended to death, this could be the year for the first major reform of Texas beer laws benefitting small breweries and consumers since the 1993 bill that created brewpubs.
The primary beneficiaries are breweries such as Saint Arnold Brewing Co. of Houston, Rahr Brewing Co. of Fort Worth, and newer microbreweries including San Antonio's Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling Co. and Real Ale Brewing Co. of Blanco. Numerous other microbreweries popping up around the state could benefit incrementally, but it is of little help to those who don't bottle or plan on bottling their brews in the near future.
The question then is how much revenue will be generated by including up to a case of beer to take away as part of a microbrewery tour and will it truly help microbreweries thrive? If things continue on their current path, we may just get a chance to find out.
Travis E. Poling