Senate moves to let breweries sell beer to go, make it easier to own several liquor stores

By Catherine Marfin
© 2018 The Texas Tribune

AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas Senate on Wednesday restored a measure allowing breweries to sell beer to go from their taprooms to a bill allowing the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to continue operating. It also approved a measure that would loosen current restrictions on the number of liquor store permits individuals can hold.

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, said her amendment allowing breweries to sell beer to go — something that is currently allowed in every state except Texas — would foster job creation, economic development, entrepreneurship and tourism.

“We stand our best when we stand together and we come together on issues that have been divisive in the past,” Buckingham said during the floor debate. “Our constituents elected us to be bold — and with that, I give you beer to go, baby.”

The TABC bill's sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, also added an amendment that would allow individuals to hold up to 250 liquor store permits. Under current law, individuals are prohibited from owning more than five liquor stores, with two exceptions. One exception applies to anyone who owned a liquor store before May 1, 1949. The other allows anyone who is a parent, child or sibling who is also in the liquor store business to join forces and obtain an unlimited amount of permits. Together, those two exceptions only apply to 11 of more than 2,600 liquor stores in Texas.

“(The amendment) brings a level playing field and free market approach to the issuance of package store permits while also ensuring the TABC is able to do so in a responsible manner,” Birdwell said during the floor debate.

Both provisions are now part of a House Bill 1545, a larger bill which the legislature must pass in order for the TABC to keep functioning. Known as the Sunset review process, it’s a once-in-a-dozen years opportunity for lawmakers to overhaul the state’s arcane alcohol laws.

The addition of the beer to-go provision restores a measure that the House added to the bill last month. The Senate, though, did not restore another House provision that would have allowed retailers like grocery stores and restaurants to begin selling beer and wine at 10 a.m. instead of noon on Sundays.

The Senate's beer to-go amendment was largely made possible by an agreement between the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, a large lobby group in Texas representing the interests of beer distributors, the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, which represents the interests of local breweries, and the Beer Alliance of Texas, another group representing distributors.

The Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas didn’t sign on when the truce was originally made in February, but agreed to the sign on with the other two groups earlier this month.

Birdwell has tried for four sessions to abolish the law regulating package store limits. This session he authored Senate Bill 645, which passed the Senate but died in a House committee. And Buckingham filed SB 312, which would have allowed beer to go. But her bill never got a committee hearing.

Throughout the Sunset review process, the bill's author, state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, and other lawmakers and stakeholders have emphasized that they would work to focus the bill on effectiveness and efficiency — not policy.

But Birdwell said he crafted his amendment because the TABC Sunset bill has become "one of the only opportunities to update the state's archaic alcoholic beverage code."

The House still has to approve the Senate's amendments before the changes go into effect.



© 2019 The Texas Tribune