Prohibition-era regulations have been the mechanism that large brewers, beer distributors, and the politicians in their pockets have utilized to keep smaller, startup competitors at bay. One prohibition has drawn the attention of a coalition comprised of legislators of both parties and a team of brewmasters from every corner of the state. Texas remains the only state in the union to disallow craft brewers from directly selling their products to consumers for off-premise consumption.
Two legislators have filed companion bills in each of the Capitol’s two chambers that would lift the ban on selling “beer-to-go” directly: State Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R–Lakeway) and State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D–Austin). The bipartisan team filed SB 312 and HB 672 (identical measures which would accomplish the same task) in their respective chambers for lawmakers to consider in the 86th Legislature.
“Texas craft brewers should have the right to sell beer and ale to consumers for off-premise consumption, a privilege the state already provides to wineries, distilleries, and brewpubs in Texas,” Buckingham said after filing the bill, concluding the bill would “encourage further economic development” and “eliminate this unnecessary government overreach.”
Texas has a rich appreciation for craft beer, one which has only grown stronger over the course of the past decade. The growing appetite for small-batch, local pints has fostered a healthy and successful industry with an economic impact of over $4.5 billion in 2016. The following year, the number of craft breweries grew to over 250 producers, the ninth-most in the nation, combining to make over 1.1 million barrels per year.
With Texas’ archaic and onerous regulations on beer and brewing, it’s tough to tell what the entrepreneurs behind these businesses might be capable of should they be free to operate uninhibited. The whims of industry giants working to curtail competition through clout and influence with legislators focused on re-election have long controlled the levers behind who gets ahead and has the advantage. Beer is not unlike virtually every other industry, where lobbying for additional costs and entry barriers to slow the ascent of others in the marketplace is standard practice.
Last year, a group of breweries, brewmasters, and other industry allies making up the Texas Craft Brewers Guild made a concerted effort to fight back and launched CraftPAC, a political action committee working on the political side of the effort to rid the state of its “archaic, anti-competitive beer laws.”
In a press release after filing his legislation this week, State Rep. Rodriguez said their efforts were much needed and that Texas lagged behind other states on the issue.
“Texas should be a leader when it comes to supporting small businesses, not the last horse to cross the finish line,” said Rodriguez.
With bipartisan understanding of a need for conservative, free-market improvements in our state, one might expect legislation like this to pass through easily. Unfortunately, the measure can expect to face major opposition from beer distributors and their allies, and history shows most bills that are reformative in nature have found their final resting place on the Texas House committee desks.
Bills bucking the status quo or the establishment’s preferred outcome all too frequently become the victims of a process absent of transparency, without regard for the number or party of legislators signed on. With new leadership overseeing the ins and outs and promises of a member-driven process for bills to pass or fail on their merits this session, legislation expanding consumer freedom like beer-to-go might be given a fighting chance.