May 13, 2009
Small-brewery bill is dead for 2009
HB 2094, state Rep. Jessica Farrar's longshot bid to help small brewers by letting them provide a small amount of beer on premises, directly to consumers, is dead for this legislative session.
"We gained a lot of yardage this time," Farrar told me a few minutes ago, "but we didn't get to the goal line."
She was referring to the fact that during the 2007 session a similar bill of hers died without ever getting a hearing. This year, the bill cleared the Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee on a 5-to-2 vote.
However, almost assuredly because of behind-the-scenes lobbying, by the time the bill was released it was probably too late to get it added to the calendar and set up for a vote in the full House. The session ends June 1, and lawmakers are sifting through tons of other legislation.
There is no time left for the Calendars Committee to get the bill set up for a vote tomorrow, and Farrar said she does not see any pertinent legislation out there that the measure could be attached to.
"It's very clear that ... it got buried," she said.
The measure would have let beermakers that produce fewer than 250,000 barrels each year provide a small amount of beer on their premises. In a compromise designed to appease the distributors who opposed the bill, the legislation would have allowed people who tour these breweries to take home up to two cases of beer.
At Houston's Saint Arnold Brewing Co., for example, people could choose between differently priced tour packages that include varying amounts of beer to take home.
Farrar said she plans to refile a version of the bill when the Legislature meets again in 2011 and hone her strategy, in part by lining up a senator to sponsor a companion bill.
Despite the setback, Farrar sounded optimistic about her chances, particularly if the Democrats continue to gain seats. "If my party's in power," she said, "I might be on Calendars."
Brock Wagner, the Saint Arnold founder, was disappointed to see the "state legislating against its own in-state businesses."
He, too, was encouraged that the measure got further along this go-round. He said Farrar did "a superb job" and added that he and the other small brewers will work harder to "lay the groundwork" to get even more support in 2011. Some distributors, he noted, were on board for the amended version of the bill this year.
But for now the opposition remained too strong.
And so, said Wagner, who is in the midst of a major expansion project, "I'll go back to building my brewery."