Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

May 17th, 2013:

Friday random ten: The city never sleeps, part 6

More Memphis and more foreign places.

1. Leningrad – Billy Joel
2. Lisdoonvarna – Ceili’s Muse
3. Liverpool Sunset – Gerald Jay Markoe
4. London Homesick Blues – Flying Fish Sailors
5. (Making The Run To) Gladewater – Michelle Shocked
6. Marching Bands Of Manhattan – Death Cab For Cutie
7. Memphis Exorcism – Squirrel Nut Zippers
8. Memphis In The Meantime – John Hiatt
9. Merano – from “Chess”
10. Miami – Shorty Long

Lisdoonvarna is a spoken-word song about a small spa town in Ireland that used to be the site of a large music festival. It remains the site of a ginormous annual matchmaking festival, which frankly sounds like an even better subject for a song. Merano is in northern Italy and has a long association with the game of chess. Memphis, I trust, you are familiar with.

Craft distilling

We’re all familiar with the craft brewing industry in Texas, but did you know there is also a growing number of craft distillers in the Lone Star State? Whether you knew that or not, you will probably not be surprised to learn that they too have been held back by archaic alcohol laws, but like their brothers and sisters in the beermaking world, things are looking up for them now.

Yellow Rose Distilling

Twenty years after the rebirth of the craft-beer movement, and 30 years after boutique wineries found a foothold in America, spirits including scotch and bourbon are finally getting the small-batch treatment, with local distilleries redefining made-in-Texas spirits.

Distilleries of any kind were banned in Texas until 1997, when Tito Beveridge of Tito’s Vodka fought for legislation to legalize the industry once again. Now there are 43 distilleries with active permits in the state (though not all licensees are actively producing spirits), enough to place Texas at ninth in the nation with plenty of room to grow. California, the nation’s leader in distilleries, has about 250 independent producers operating.

Most of those Texas distilleries make spirits that don’t require aging, such as vodka or rum, but in the past five years a fledgling movement toward craft whiskeys has flourished across the state, with new brands that are already getting international attention.

[…]

Unlike wineries, distilleries in Texas are currently barred from offering tastings of their spirits on site or from selling directly to the consumer from the distillery. That’s set to change if Texas Senate Bill 905, which passed the state Senate in March and the House earlier this month, is signed by Gov. Rick Perry.

“Allowing distilleries to have on-premise and off-premise sales will bring visitors to the distilleries, which will hopefully increase sales and bring attention to Texas products,” notes the staff of state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, one of the bill’s authors.

Other bills designed to help Texas distilleries compete with out-of-state brands are under review by the Texas House of Representatives, including SB 828, which allows in-state distilleries to designate an official agent to conduct product samplings and take orders from wholesalers, as out-of-state distilleries do, and S.B. 652, which will allow Texas distilleries (as well as wineries and breweries) to buy and sell their products to other licensed distilleries.

Here are SB905 and SB828, which has also passed the House by now. SB652 is on the House calendar for today, as are the craft beer bills for which we’ve all been patiently waiting. I can only presume the reason why the distillers got their legislation through with no apparent fuss is that there isn’t an established industry of large distillers and liquor distributors to oppose them.

Anyway. The Press had a cover story on Texas’ craft distillers back in 2011 that’s worth your time to read. Yellow Rose was the first to open in the Houston area last year, and the craft distillery legislation that currently awaits Rick Perry’s signature would directly affect them:

Assuming SB 905 is signed and takes effect, Yellow Rose will move its microdistillery to central Houston near North Post Oak and Katy Freeway, seizing the opportunity to use tours as a marketing and sales tool.

As it is currently located north of Tomball, that would most likely mean it will become an actual Houston business instead of merely a “Houston-area” business once SB905 is law. I hope one of the city’s lobbyists has expressed support for this bill to Perry.

Mike Anderson reveals that he has cancer

Very sorry to hear this.

DA Mike Anderson

DA Mike Anderson

Mike Anderson, Harris County’s district attorney, informed his staff Thursday that he has been diagnosed with cancer.

“I have great doctors and am undergoing treatment. I fully intend to beat this,” said a brief email sent Thursday and signed “Mike.”

“Many people have asked how they can help me. I would ask that you keep me and my family in your prayers and continue to do the great work that you’re doing to make this the best DA’s office in these United States.”

Sara Marie Kinney, a spokeswoman for the office, released the email and said no other details were available, including the type of cancer and how long the elected district attorney has had it.

I wish DA Anderson all the best for a swift and full recovery. His Facebook page is here if you want to post a get-well message. KTRK has more.

We still have the Railroad Commission to kick around

State Impact Texas tells us that there will be no sunset bill, and thus no reforms, for the Texas Railroad Commission this session.

The name and the logo remain

After a lengthy review of the agency, required by state law under the Sunset review process, the Railroad Commission will continue instead with the same name and without any reforms. So what happened?

For one, there were conflicting ideas on how to reform the commission. A more industry-friendly plan in the House, HB 2166 by state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, which ended up being stripped of many of its reforms (and ultimately a name change) didn’t ever make it out of the House.

But a stronger Senate bill, SB 212 by state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, had better luck, until [Tuesday].

It would have made Railroad commissioners resign if they were going to run for another office. Commissioners would not have been allowed to accept contributions from parties with contested cases before the commission. And campaign contributions to run for re-election to the commission would only have been allowed in the 17 months before an election. It would have also renamed the commission the Texas Energy Resources Commission, a much more apt title. (The Railroad Commission no longer has anything to do with railroads.)

Despite the fact that those reforms sailed through the Senate, they died today in the House Committee on Energy Resources. The office of Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, told StateImpact Texas that the committee couldn’t agree on the bill, so they opted not to vote it out.

[…]

So what’s next? The sunset review process says an agency under review must have its Sunset bill pass, or it essentially gets shut down. That is unlikely to happen with the Railroad Commission, however, as lawmakers hope the agency is spared in what’s called a “schedule bill,” legislation that essentially kicks the can on a review of the agency to a legislative session further down the road. The Railroad Commission could be added to a basic schedule bill already in the Senate, HB 1675, also by Rep. Bonnen, which could give it several more years without reform. A similar move was used in the 2011 legislative session when lawmakers couldn’t agree how to reform the Railroad Commission.

See here and here for the background. I’ve lost track of how many times the Lege has tried and failed to update the Commission’s name. That’s fairly small potatoes compared to changing how the Commission does its business, but we shouldn’t be surprised by that failure. Wait till next session, I guess.

Now there will be an app for your auto insurance

Good.

Legislation allowing Texas drivers to prove their insurance coverage with a wireless communications device is on its way to the governor after winning final approval from the Senate on Thursday. The measure by Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, would bring Texas in line with six other states that already enable drivers to prove insurance coverage with a smart phone or wireless device. Another 21 states also are considering such a change.

Hegar said his bill allowing cell phone insurance verification “is just another step into the 21st century for Texans” and mirrors the growing use of cell phones for a variety of purposes other than phone calls. For several years,Texas drivers have had to carry an insurance ID in their vehicles, or risk being ticketed and paying a fine if stopped by a police officer. Failure to comply with the law can eventually lead to revocation of a drivers license.

The bill in question is SB181. When I wrote about this before, the story was about a couple of House bills that did the same thing; in the end, one of the authors of a House bill, Rep. Ryan Guillen, was a sponsor of Sen. Hegar’s bill. Several insurance companies already offer such apps since this is legal in some other states, and others are sure to follow. I’m not a big phone app person, but I am a person who often forgets to put his insurance card in his car, so this will be one for me to download.