Session Update: 5-13-2015

UPDATE: Politics and More Politics

Hello Open The Taps members!

I want to open this update with a huge ‘thank you’ to each and every one of you. You share our passion that the foundation for a thriving beer culture in the state of Texas starts with a focus on consumers. That passion fuels our organization’s work both in Austin and across the Lone Star State. Thank you!

This is a long update – so I’m breaking it into three parts:

One – brief on the 2015 session overall and some political developments over the past few weeks

Two – a detailed overview of the current bills and issues and their status

Three – a ‘cheat sheet’ of reminders of who to contact about what and some tips on how to do that effectively

PART ONE: The 2015 Session – Where are we, what’s happening

Open The Taps and our partners at Cornerstone Government Affairs entered this session working to build on the progress we made in the last session with the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. The Guild took the lead on a few issues and Open The Taps some others, partnering with the same legislative champions from two years ago and some new interested parties to get bills introduced.

Unfortunately, the efforts of the ‘proudly macro’ beer distributor lobby over these last few weeks have clearly shown that the strength of the coalition from the last session is broken – missing their participation and support for any types of changes to continue the growth of beer culture in the state of Texas. The introduction of HB 3389, a proposal to roll back some of the key changes made 2 years ago is the strongest evidence of this, but they have indicated opposition to every other initiative that has been introduced.

The macro distributor lobby in Austin is working hard to keep the proposals that the Guild and Open The Taps have made from being scheduled for hearings in committee, and may still propose additional changes to ratchet back the progress from last session. Our work through the end of this session and beyond needs to focus on four key things:

  1. Playing defense – working with our partners at the Guild to do anything and everything to keep the progress from last session whole. No changes, no rollbacks – period. Please know that our phone calls, emails and letters were the catalyst to tabling the toxic HB 3389; and that’s all about YOU, taking ACTION, making your VOICE HEARD.
  2. Pushing to get our last remaining bill through the House – The big political picture is not an optimistic one – but this session is NOT over until June. We need to be tenacious in our support of the Homebrew bill that still has a slight chance of moving out of the House. The other side has deep pockets but we have lots of voices. We’re the only ones that can push this issue forward. We have listed the other bills that we pushed for but were stopped by the distributors.
  3. Let our friends know how much we appreciate them – There is a growing number of legislators that ‘get it’ – they understand the impact of a Texas-sized beer culture unencumbered by outdated rules that favor some over others. See section four for a list of those leaders that deserve our thanks and support.
  4. Grow Open The Taps – We need more of you. We need more chapters in more locations around the state. Tell your friends, share these updates, and if you think you can do more, contact us to talk about opportunities to help!

PART TWO: Key pieces of legislation, issues, and current positions

The following bill made it out of committee, but thanks to the distributors’ efforts never got scheduled for a vote in the full House and is stuck in what is called the Calendar Committee. Calling into the Calendar Committee this week is the only hope we have to push it through.

HB 2546 by Rep. Springer, relating to homebrew competition location, allowing craft breweries to host these competitions

House Calendars Committee (members)

  • Clarifies rules relating to sampling of homebrew on the premise of a brewery
  • Open The Taps has worked with local homebrew clubs to introduce this legislation to clarify the rules about hosting homebrew competitions on the premises of craft breweries.
  • The Texas homebrewing community has a storied history, and has longstanding relationships with many Texas craft brewers. These brewers support the hobby and help offset significant costs of running Texas-based (and nationally prominent) homebrew competitions
  • Recent TABC enforcement action has threatened this relationship and made highlighted some vague rules in the existing code that need clarification
  • Nothing about these proposals impacts commercial beer production, distribution or retail sale – or its related taxation – in any way. This is a bill about homebrewing that benefits homebrewers

The following bills have been referred to committee, but thanks to the distributor efforts never got scheduled for hearing.

SB 1386 by Sen. Eltife, relating to off-premise sales (a limited amount) of beer from craft breweries

 Senate Business and Commerce Committee (members)

  • Would allow for purchase of the equivalent of two cases (or equivalent volume) each month ‘to-go’ from a brewery – for consumption at home or for sharing with friends and family
  • Although a smaller step than we would have liked, we are very supportive of this bill to begin giving Texas beer consumers the same rights Texas wine/spirit consumers have had for years
  • We do not understand why a monthly limit is important, but feel that Texas craft breweries will be able to enforce this limitation easily – many already limit sales of products they sell on site
  • This is a step towards catching Texas up with basically every other state with a strong craft beer culture (eg. California, Colorado, Michigan, etc.), and would be a part of continuing to develop Texas craft breweries as nationally competitive beer tourism destinations
  • Open The Taps strongly supports efforts to help Texas craft breweries develop new ways to grow their small businesses faster – bolstering the economy of the communities they are part of

SB 719 by Sen. Burton, relating to direct shipping of craft beer similar to direct wine shipping

Senate Business and Commerce Committee (members)

  • Provides Texas craft beer consumers with the same rights as Texas wine drinkers – modifying the law to treat shipment of beer to Texas consumers from outside the state similarly to wine
  • On the surface this would seem to ‘hurt’ Texas craft brewers and distributors – but access to the best beers from around the nation (and world) only further builds a strong beer culture in Texas, which multiplies itself in support for great, Texas made beers (i.e. a rising tide raises all boats)

The Festival Bill (not filed)

  • Open The Taps worked with the Big Texas Beer Fest, Jester King, and Untapped festival team to try and progress some key changes to Texas rules about beer festivals
  • Sadly, the macro distributor lobby has created enough uncertainty about ‘craft beer’ issues this session that we were unable to find a sponsor for this bill before the filing deadline. We continue to work closely with our partners to assess options for progress.


PART THREE: How to contact legislators and who to contact

First – we hear over and over again from members how surprised they are when they get in touch with senior staff or even a legislator directly when calling their offices. Be prepared for this! Most legislators care quite a bit when constituents call – a rule of thumb in Austin is that a phonecall represents 10 voters in a district. They will listen to you carefully and remember the conversation.

Just a few reminders and key Dos/Donts:

DO

  • After introducing yourself, start by explaining the bill you are calling about (by number) and the key issue it is in support of (see reference above), and where you live in Texas
  • If you live in the legislator’s district, make sure and mention that fact
  • Always say that you are calling from Open The Taps – a grassroots organization of Texas craft beer consumers
  • Explain why you support the bill in your own words. Our individual explanations of support are the best arguments, because they are all about common sense principles – see above for more detail or feel free to contact us for more help
  • Ask if Open The Taps can count on support for the issue. If not, ask why not – but see note below about not arguing
  • If you can, mention that you are an educated consumer that cares about growing a strong craft beer culture in Texas – that you have NO FINANCIAL INTEREST in the proposals.
  • Close by reminding them that you are from Open The Taps, and that you hope they will take action on these issues

DON’T

  • Call after getting all riled up after a lively discussion at your local (I know, but it’s happened y’all – so please just make sure it’s not you J)
  • BE POLITE! Just use the golden rule and you’ll be fine. We do not want legislators and their staff thinking Open The Taps are some shout-ey niche interest group that can be ignored
  • Call Representative Thompson any more about HB 3389. 3389 is not going to be actioned further. Badgering her (or any legislator) is not helpful, and can jeopardize support for Open The Taps in the future. Speak out if you see this happening outside of Open The Taps!
  • Accuse a legislator of being bought and paid for by the distributors or otherwise steering the discussion to campaign donations and their influence on legislative decisions. This is not how to start a conversation about issues we care about. Save those opinions for a chat with us over a cold craft beer.
  • Argue about support – if the legislator does not support our proposal, explore why but don’t argue. Gather information and share it with the board – you may have learned something new!