Today is the last Thursday of the 83rd regular legislative session. This has been a week of late nights, as my colleagues and I work to finish as much business as possible before the clock runs out.
One of the more high-profile pieces of legislation to pass this week is a package of bills designed to expand Texas’ craft beer industry and address out-of-date business regulations that were stifling this homegrown economy. I am proud to have been a sponsor of all of this legislation to help an industry that is so important, not only in HD-51 and the Austin area, but also across Texas as a whole.
Below, read more about this session’s big win for Texas breweries, get caught up on my efforts to protect and expand affordable housing in Austin, and find out what’s Good, Bad, and Ugly about this last week of session.
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Big Win for Texas Breweries
Many Texans are surprised to learn that despite our state’s love of beer, local breweries and brewpubs have been hampered by restrictive and confusing laws that prevented these small producers from flourishing.
Last session, steps were taken to update regulations and strike down barriers to local and craft brewers, but unfortunately those bills did not pass.
This session, however, a broad coalition of legislators, craft brewers and distributors came together to pass a package of legislation that amounts to a big win for Texas beer, and our local economy.
Together, the five “Beer Bills” — SB 515-518 and SB 639 — will do a great deal to help our Texas craft brewing industry thrive and become more competitive on a national level.
Through this legislation, brewpubs gain the right to sell to Texas wholesalers — a right which out-of-state brewpubs already have — and raises their production limits while allowing for limited self-distribution. The package also eliminates an existing discrimination against out-of-state producers, and prohibits wholesalers from making payment in exchange for territorial exclusivity. Additionally, this legislation finally makes it legal for craft brewers to sell beer and ale for consumption on-site at the brewery.
While Texas craft beer represents only .0.7% of all beer consumed in Texas, the industry generates more than 50% of the sector’s jobs. This legislation has the potential to add $5 billion in economic impact and create more than 52,000 jobs by 2020.
I’m proud that 18 Texas craft breweries and brewpubs operate in the Austin area and especially in HD-51, including Live Oak Brewing Company, Hops and Grain, Independence Brewing Co., (512) Brewing Company, Namaste Brewing, and South Austin Brewing Co.
This legislation will help these local businesses thrive, and help the craft beer industry become even more of an economic powerhouse here in Texas.
A Step Toward More Affordable Housing
Last night, HB 3350, my bill to expand the low-income neighborhoods in a city eligible for a Homestead Preservation District passed. My friend Senator Kirk Watson was the Senate sponsor and was instrumental in the bill’s passage. Many thanks to Sen. Watson.
This is great news for Austin, where we’re currently facing an affordable housing crisis.
HB 3350 modifies existing Homestead Preservation Districts legislation: HB 525 that I passed in 2005 and HB 470 in 2007 by expanding the geographic scope of neighborhoods eligible for a homestead district, which has become too narrow since the original passage of the legislation in 2005. This bill will help Austin preserve existing affordable housing opportunities and help additional low- and moderate-income homeowners and renters.
The bill also extends the purpose of Homestead Preservation Districts to cover the preservation of affordable rental housing opportunities in addition to homeownership.
This is a good bill, and an important bill that will expand the low-income neighborhoods in Austin eligible for an HPD, and address the needs of low-income families across our community. I urge the Governor to sign it into law.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
This week, it was tough to pick just one bill to highlight in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, but these stood out.
The Good: Cottage Food Bill Passes Senate
One of the major pieces of legislation for the Texas House Farm-to-Table Caucus passed the Senate late last night and is headed to the Governor’s desk for a signature. HB 970 expands the existing Cottage Foods law to allow at-home producers to make and sell a wider variety of low-risk foods, including popcorn, nut butters, and roasted coffee. The bill also removes the restriction that the sale occur in the producer’s home, allowing individuals to sell their goods at farmers’ markets.
The Bad: Sen. Joan Huffman Kills Exoneration Review Commission
My colleague, Democratic Representative Ruth Jones McClendon, has been working hard to establish the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission, which would review and analyze the causes of wrongful convictions and attempt to bring an end to wrongful convictions in Texas. In 1999, Timothy Cole died in prison after serving 14 years of a sentence for a crime of which he had been wrongfully convicted.
McClendon’s bill, HB 166, passed the House with solid bipartisan support. However, Republican Senator Joan Huffman has held up the bill, apparently because she thinks such additional reforms are unnecessary. Texas has made national news for wrongful convictions and questionable executions. McClendon’s bill deserved a vote in the Senate because Texans deserve the strongest justice system possible.
The Ugly: Jeff Leach Amendment Blocks Medicaid Expansion
28.8% of Texas residents lack health insurance, yet Republican Representative Jeff Leach is determined to make sure none of them are given access to the Medicaid expansion provided under the Affordable Care Act. Despite the Governor’s consistent opposition to the expansion, Leach still felt it necessary to amend the state’s Medicaid reform bill to ensure that the 1.5 million low-income, uninsured Texans who could gain coverage will not. This was just mean-spirited on the part of Leach, who joins his party in offering no solutions to help the millions of Texans who could receive quality, affordable healthcare under President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment.
The Supreme Court has already upheld the Affordable Care Act as the law of the land. It’s time for Republicans in Texas to accept it, and allow the policy to work.
Congratulations and Celebrations
Congratulations to attorney and Democratic activist Jan Soifer on her election as interim Travis County Democratic Party Chair! She was elected unanimously by the county executive committee at a special meeting last Sunday. I am sure Jan will keep up TCDP’s strong tradition of working hard to elect Democrats up and down the ballot, and I’m committed to continuing to help the party thrive.
Finally, join me tonight at Scholz Garten for the 10th Anniversary of the Killer D’s, and celebrate my fellow Democratic representatives who fled to Oklahoma in 2003 in an attempt to block the Republicans’ controversial mid-decade redistricting scheme.
Killer D’s 10 Year Anniversary Party
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