Compromise helps Texas craft brewers

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March 13, 2013

By Andy Marshall


AUSTIN, Texas: On Wednesday, the Texas State Senate's Committee on Business and Commerce approved a compromise package of bills affecting craft brewers. The package included a series of four bills backed by craft brewers and their allies and a modified form of Committee Chairman John Carona's bill, which brewers had strongly opposed in its original form. Carona said he had introduced his bill in order to include other viewpoints in the discussion and force a compromise. The committee passed Carona's amendment to link the five bills together as a single legislative package. "We all live together or die together as these bills make their way through both chambers," Carona said.[1] Brock Wagner of Saint Arnold Brewing Company and the Texas Craft Brewers Guild offered measured support for the compromise, asserting that "in the end the package when taken as a whole will move Texas craft breweries forward."[2]

On February 12, a bipartisan group of senators filed Senate Bills 515 through 518. Republican Kevin Eltife and Democrats Eddie Lucio, Leticia Van de Putte, Kirk Watson, and John Whitmire sponsored all four bills, while Republican Brian Birdwell sponsored only 515 and 518. These bills include provisions to significantly expand microbreweries' operations in the state. Breweries would be allowed to sell beer to consumers for on-site consumption, and microbreweries would be allowed to sell their products to retailers. On February 18, Carona (R) filed Senate Bill 639, a competing bill to ban breweries from selling geographical distribution rights to distributors and also establish a set price which wholesalers would pay to breweries without establishing a set price for wholesalers to sell to retailers.[3] All five bills were referred to the Committee on Business and Commerce, which held public hearings about them on March 5 and 12. Critics of SB 639, including craft brewers, Anheuser-Busch, and the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, pointed out that the only organization supporting the bill, the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, would benefit greatly from it and was one of Carona's major campaign donors.[4] The final compromise included the ban on geogrpahical distribution rights sales, a source of profit for craft brewers, but not the set wholesale purchasing price. Craft brewers failed to secure approval for selling alcohol directly to consumers at their facilities for off-site consumption.

The five bills will now go before the full Senate, although a date for their consideration has not yet been set.

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