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February 14th, 2013:

Messing with the primaries

It’s like deja vu all over again.

State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has filed a bill to move up the primary one month in even-numbered years, to the first Tuesday in February.

Patrick said people in both parties should support the measure because it would give Texas a greater say in presidential elections.

“I’m tired of other states, mostly smaller, picking the nominees for president,” Patrick said in a statement.

It’s not clear the move would actually give Texas parties more clout because national rules governor state primary timing.

Democratic Party spokeswoman Tanene Allison said such an early primary would violate her party’s national rules and prevent Democratic delegates from being seated at the national convention and casting votes for the nominee.

“We strongly oppose it,” she said.

So much for people in “both parties” wanting to support it. All due respect, but the idea of Dan Patrick having the best interests of the Texas Democratic Party in mind is rather a stretch. But look, we’ve been down this road before. There was a lot of bills in the 2007 Legislature to move the primary up to February on the grounds that it would give Texas voters more of a say in the outcome. As we Democrats may recall, having the primary in March as usual was the best thing that could have happened, since the race was still very much in doubt and there were no other primaries between Super Tuesday and ours, meaning that the attention of the entire country and both the Obama and Clinton campaigns were right here that whole time. If Greg Abbott hadn’t appealed the original interim map from the San Antonio court to SCOTUS, the March primary in 2012 would have been very meaningful for the Republicans, quite possibly giving a major boost to Rick Santorum. (It likely also would have allowed David Dewhurst to survive the GOP Senate primary, but that’s a side issue.) Who’s to say that a March primary wouldn’t be meaningful in 2016? I was supportive of the effort in 2007 to move the primary up, but at this point I’d say leave it alone.

Senate Bill 452 also would apply in non-presidential years. The filing deadline, if the bill passed, would be moved to the second week in November starting with the 2014 elections, according to Patrick’s office. Patrick is among those talked up as eyeing a run for statewide office.

Democratic consultant Harold Cook said besides affecting the presidential primary, an early primary tends to help incumbent legislators and members of Congress seeking re-election.

“There is just simply less time for a challenger to get known,” he said.

Yes, it does benefit incumbents, which means it will benefit Republicans in general in 2014 for statewide races, not that they need the help. I don’t have a problem with wanting to make Texas more of a player in the Presidential nomination process, but after the last two races I think we ought to be wary of the idea that this requires an earlier primary date. Trail Blazers has more.

Here come the craft beer bills

From Brewed and Never Battered.

Senator Kevin Eltife (R-District 1) introduced bi-partisan legislation along with Co-Authors, Senators Brian Birdwell (R-District 22), John Carona (R-District 16), Eddie Lucio (D-District 27), Leticia Van de Putte (D-District 26), Kirk Watson (D-District 14), and John Whitmire (D-District 15) to modernize the state’s alcohol regulatory system to make more competitive Texas’s small, craft brewers.

Senate Bills 515, 516, 517 and 518 expand the rights of the state’s craft breweries and brewpubs to provide parity versus what brewers in other states are allowed to do.

From a Press Release put out by Senator Eltife’s office:

“Government shouldn’t be involved in picking winners and losers in private industry.  Texans believe consumers make the best choices about products in the free market,” said Senator Eltife.  “These four bills will level the playing field for the small business segment of Texas brewing industry.”

“Legislators should encourage entrepreneurial spirit by creating a climate for small business development opportunities that leads to capital investment and job creation in our state,” added Senator Eltife.  “This legislation will provide the proper regulatory framework for these businesses to operate and grow.”

What the Bills Do

SB 515

  • Increases the production limit for a brewpub from 5,000 to 12,500 barrels annually
  • Authorizes a brewpub to sell their products to the wholesale tier for re-sale
  • Authorizes a brewpub to self-distribute up to 1,000 barrels annual to the retail tier for re-sale

SB 518

  • Authorizes a production brewery under 225,000 barrels of annual production to sell up to 5,000 barrels annually of beer produced by the brewery to ultimate consumers for consumption on the premise of the brewery

SB 516 & 517

  • Authorizes a production brewery under 125,000 barrels of annual production to self-distribute up to 40,000 barrels annual of beer, ale and malt-liquor to retailers. (Note: this right currently exists but is being adjusted. Currently, a brewery under 75,000 barrels of annual production may self-distribute up to 75,000 barrels. These bills increase the size of a brewery that may self-distribute while reducing the amount they may self-distribute. There are two bills because it affects both the “Manufacturer” license – Ch. 62 of the code – and the “Brewer” permit – Ch. 12 of the code.)
  • Eliminates discrimination against out-of-state suppliers.

This is great to hear. I don’t remember there being this kind of broad support for previous bills, but if this is any indication there just might be a breakthrough this year. These bills encompass most, but not quite all, of what the microbrewers and brewpubs have been pushing for. Beer, TX notes the exception:

Notably, the bill regarding on-site sales for production breweries does not include any provision for selling beer for off-premises consumption or giving packaged beer away following tours. That had been a major push during the past two legislative sessions. In 2011, a bill made it through the House and Senate committee but was never called for a floor vote because of opposition.

That opposition hasn’t gone away and the small brewers abandoned efforts to include such a provision in this year’s proposals.

That’s a bummer, but sometimes you have to take a smaller step forward before you can get where you really want to go. Here’s Open the Taps:

Open The Taps continues to work closely with the [Texas Craft Brewers] Guild to help shape and guide the legislation and we are pleased with the general direction of the debate, but we believe these bills can and should go further by allowing microbreweries to sell set quantities of beer directly to patrons for off-premise personal consumption.

We will be working with members of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee and the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures to share our position and elicit their support.

I’d rather have stronger bills, too, but better to get these bills passed and come back in two years for more than fail again and have to start all over again in two years. Passing these bills will be progress, and we need that. The key is that the usual suspects do not appear to be standing in the way this time, as the Chron story notes.

Several of the parties involved in developing the proposals say there is at least some agreement within the industry and in the state Senate.

“Conceptually, we’ve agreed,” said Rick Donley, president of the Beer Alliance of Texas, which represents Silver Eagle Distributing and other major wholesalers.

[…]

Charles Vallhonrat, executive director of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, applauded the work of lawmakers “in bringing industry stakeholders – from small and large brewers to distributors and retailers – to the table to discuss how to make Texas a compelling place for breweries to do business.”

Scott Metzger, the Freetail owner who pushed for a brewpub bill two years ago, agreed that pre-session working groups organized by Van de Putte created “a really good, open process.”

Getting past that opposition is huge, but nothing is certain until the governor puts his signature on it. As always, now is an excellent time to contact your Senator and your Representative to let them know you support these bills, and you would like them to support these bills as well.

No, we shouldn’t be closing any state parks

We shouldn’t be closing them in bad times, and we definitely shouldn’t be closing them in good times.

“We need to turn up the volume and let people know that our state parks are threatened,” said Ian Davis, director of the Keep Texas Parks Open campaign. “We’re in a time of budget surplus, and it seems backwards to be closing parks.”

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs has predicted a 12.4 percent or $11.2 billion increase in general revenue funds for the 2014-15 biennium.

But the initial proposed park budget being considered by the Texas House and Senate now is $4.1 million short of the bare minimum necessary to keep the state’s 91 parks open, park officials say. The Legislative Budget Board, which develops budget and policy recommendations for the Legislature, last week estimated such a cut could close as many as nine parks but did not identify any particular ones.

Despite the potentially dire outlook, Texas Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Carter Smith remains optimistic: “This is only a beginning point of a long budget process that will take place over the next couple of months.”

After a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 6, the committee’s chairman, Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, asked parks and wildlife for a more detailed accounting of its needs.

“I’m not personally interested in seeing any state parks closed. But there’s some confusion on what we need to do to help,” he stated.

Beside being short on operation expenses, the proposed budget includes nothing for capital improvements for aging facilities.

While costs for everything from gas to weather-related damage have soared, the proposed 2014-15 park budget of $140.7 million is some $19 million less than what was appropriated for the department in the 2008-2009 biennium, records show.

Just to bring a little math here, $140.7 million is 0.14% of the total revenue estimate of $101.4 billion for this biennium. Restoring the TPWD budget to $159.7 million would be 0.16% of the total. In other words, it’s basically rounding error. Especially after all of the weather-related trauma some parks have suffered through, the better question to ask is how much do they need to get back to where they ought to be. One way to fix this problem, as Ian Davis wrote in an op-ed, is to stop the diversion of funds that were intended to be dedicated to parks into general revenue, which is one of the many accounting tricks used to make the budget look “balanced” in 2011. State Rep. Lyle Larson has filed HB 105 to end that diversion and fully fund Texas’ parks. If you care about this, that’s something you should support. Give a Like to Keep Texas Parks Open for more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 11

The Texas Progressive Alliance sends its best wishes for an early spring to everyone digging out from last week’s blizzard as it brings you this week’s roundup.

The school finance ruling has been handed down, and it could be a game-changer for schools and the Legislature. Off the Kuff explains.

The Democrats in the Texas House are trying to show that the GOP doesn’t care about public education. They should since it’s been the best winning strategy for Texas Democrats in the recent past. WCNews at Eye on Williamson posts on this week’s news from The Lege, Texas House Democrats have a plan.

“Tip your server, save the world”is a suitable mantra for living in the second decade of the 21st century. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs shares the message of transforming everything you can, within the reach of your own arm, from Will Pitt.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is watching Ted Cruz hissy fit no votes on everything including no the Violence Against Women Act.

Neil at Texas Liberal wrote that President Obama’s policies on the uses of drones will lead to abuses both internationally and at home.

Over at TexasKaos, lightseeker explains how corporate school reform is The Stupid on Steroids. Give it a look.