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July 12th, 2013:

Friday random ten – The stars at night, part 1

We are at the All Star Break, and to my amazement, I have never done a Friday Random Ten based on “star” songs. I’m going to rectify that this week and next.

1. Star – Stealers Wheel
2. Star (of the County Down) – Enter the Haggis/Gordian Knot/Flying Fish Sailors
3. Star Counting – Cheyenne Medders
4. Star Dust – The Hot Club of Cowtown/Glenn Miller
5. Star Me Kitten – Blitzen Trapper
6. Star Spangled Banner – U2
7. Star Wars – Moosebutter
8. Star Wars Medley – Lager Rhythms
9. Stardom In Action – Pete Townshend
10. Starlight – Taylor Swift

Did I mention that when Olivia asks me to buy music for her that I do it through my copy of iTunes and my own iTunes library? In case you were wondering why I have Taylor Swift in my collection. Both “Star Dust” and “Star Of The County Down” have as many formattings of their title as they do artists’ renditions of them – “Star Dust”, for example, appears both as one word and as two. Next week will be the songs that have the word “Star” somewhere other than the first word in the title.

A preview of the next beer battle

Texas microbreweries are now officially selling their wares on premise. Woo hoo!

In business for nearly 19 years, Saint Arnold Brewing Co. sold its first cold one directly to a customer [in June], thanks to a new law liberalizing the way beer is bought and sold in Texas.

The buyer, 22-year-old Dale Edwards, made his $8 purchase to the click and whir of cameras and a round of cheers from the afternoon tour group, then sipped a heavy stout that marked a turning point for Saint Arnold and the state’s fast-growing craft-brewing industry.

[…]

Customers must drink the beer there, however, as some of the competing interests successfully resisted efforts to allow people to take home packaged beer.

Just hours after the ink dried on Perry’s signature, Houston’s Buffalo Bayou Brewing sold its first beers during its Saturday tour. Owner Rassul Zarinfar said he sold $18 worth of beer in addition to the samples that are included in the admission price.

Saint Arnold also plans to continue including samples in its tour prices but in addition will offer select special-release beers for sale.

CultureMap rounds up what the other craft brewers in town plan to do with their new freedom. It’s been such a long time coming that it’s almost hard to believe. Saint Arnold is at the forefront here, and I really look forward to how they and their colleagues innovate now that they have this capability. But while we celebrate this achievement and all the good it will bring, it’s important to remember that there’s a lot more that could have, and still should, be done. The Jester King brewery lays it out.

While the new laws represent major progress for Texas beer, there are some realities that we are not pleased with. There still exist exorbitant licensing fees in Texas that keep beer from small, artisan brewers out of our state. We still will not be seeing beer from Cantillon or Fantome on Texas store shelves anytime soon. We feel strongly that in order for Texas to become a truly world-class beer state, it must eliminate the massive licensing fees that keep out beer from small, artisan producers. We have written extensively on this topic before, which you can read here.

We are also not pleased with the passage of SB 639, which makes it expressly illegal for breweries to sell the right to distribute their products to wholesalers, while making it expressly legal for wholesalers to sell those same rights to one another. This law is tantamount to legalized theft, and we will join future efforts to see it overturned. For our complete commentary on SB 639, please follow this link.

Again, we are thrilled for Texas law to have changed. We were skeptical whether it would ever happen after repeated defeats in the legislature. First and foremost, we want to thank beer drinkers across the state who voiced support for the bills and gave their time and/or money to our cause. We would also like to thank Open the TapsThe Texas Craft Brewers Guild, Brock Wagner of Saint Arnold Brewing Co., Scott Meztger of Freetail Brewing Co., The Beer Alliance of Texas, and journalists who helped shed light on the injustices inherent in Texas beer law. There is still much work to be done in making Texas a better place for beer and beer drinkers, but these changes represent a dramatic, positive step forward.

See here and here for my blogging on SB639, which helped to land Sen. John Carona on the Ten Worst Legislators list for this session. You should also follow the Jester King link to learn more about what still needs to be done. Here’s an excerpt:

Imagine a local event, right here in Austin, where you could sample hand-crafted beers from both the world’s most highly regarded artisan brewers, and talented newcomers whose names you probably never even heard before. OK, now stop imagining and instead start planning your trip to wherever next year’s festival is going to be held, because without some serious changes to Texas law, there is absolutely no chance that it will ever come here.

In order for an event like this to take place in Texas, every individual, participating brewer, including foreign brewers, would need to pay up to $6,128 in licensing fees, fill out extensive paperwork (available only in English) and submit each of their beers that they planned to pour for label approval, along with either samples or a certified laboratory analysis, even if they had no intention of doing any future business in the State. Of the 70+ artisan producers in attendance, you could easily count on one hand the number whose products are currently available in Texas, and unless the law changes, we aren’t likely to see that number increase all that significantly anytime soon.

There’s been a good deal of focus placed on the need to change the laws prohibiting Texas production brewers from selling their products to the general public on site and preventing Texas brewpubs from distributing theirs off site, and we absolutely, wholeheartedly support the collective efforts that are being made to eliminate these restrictions. At the same time, however, we also feel that in order for Texas to develop a truly world-class artisan beer scene, in addition to supporting its local brewers and easing the path to market for small in-state start-ups, it also needs to remove the economic and regulatory barriers that seem virtually designed to deny its citizens access to world-class artisan products that happen to be made outside its borders.

They have a chart of per-unit costs for breweries of various size to illustrate their point. It’s clear that everyone who was involved in getting the good bills passed recognizes the need for more work, and I expect they’ll be back in 2015 to push for more. That fight will be more difficult – as far as the public is concerned, the problem has been solved, and as SB639 represented a last stand by the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas you can be sure they’ll lobby like crazy to protect it – but it needs to be fought. Again, this is about making the beer market in Texas more closely resemble an actual free market. You’d think the way so many politicians in this state croon about the virtues of the free market that this would be a no-brainer, but then we’re really much more about being pro-business than pro-market. The two are very much not the same, as the long slog to get any freedom for craft brewers attests. The fight picks up where it left off in another 18 months.

Senate passes non-abortion bills, committee passes HB2

The decks are cleared on the Senate side for the main event.

In a speedy Thursday morning meeting with little debate, the upper chamber passed Senate Bill 2 with a 30-1 vote, allowing Texas judges and juries to sentence 17-year-olds convicted of capital murderers to life in prison with parole after 40 years. It also passed Senate Joint Resolution 1 unanimously, a measure to ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment to spend money from the Rainy Day Fund on transportation initiatives.

SB 2, authored by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place, alters Texas law to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eliminated mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles last year. The Senate debated the bill for about 20 minutes before voting to suspend the rules and pass it. The measure now heads to the House.

The transportation bill, by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, would move nearly $1 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to the Texas Department of Transportation. TxDOT has said it needs about $4 billion to deal with growth and congestion on state roads. The House, meanwhile, is working on a different version of the transportation bill, raising questions about whether the two chambers can agree before the session ends.

Both bills then went to the House, which wasted no time in passing SB2. It now goes to Rick Perry, though some people think SB2 is unconstitutional as written – Sen. Jose Rodriguez released a statement saying so after SB2 passed; Texpatriate disagrees with him. There was also some separate action on transportation and an issue that isn’t on the session agenda at this time.

The House Appropriations Committee met on Thursday afternoon and passed House Bill 5, a major “TRB” measure by House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas.

The bill would issue bonds for 62 campus construction projects, though House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, made it clear that it will not be sent to the House chamber for a vote until Perry adds the issue to the special session call.

At Thursday’s meeting, the committee also unanimously passed House Joint Resolution 2, a transportation bill by state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, which would give the Texas Department of Transportation additional funding from the state’s gas revenues. TxDOT officials have indicated that the department needs roughly $4 billion a year to maintain current traffic congestion in the state.

No clue if Perry will let the campus construction bill move forward. In the meantime, the Senate moved forward on the abortion bill as well.

As the news conference was going on, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee met and approved House Bill 2, which would ban abortions at 20 weeks of gestation and tighten regulations on abortion facilities and providers. Dewhurst said that the full Senate would approve the bill on Friday — and that the gallery would be cleared if protesters mounted any demonstrations to impede the process.

In a likely preview of the debate to come Friday, the committee voted down two amendments offered by state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, that would have created exemptions for victims of rape or incest and abortion facilities more than 50 miles from an ambulatory surgical center.

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said she plans to offer additional amendments on the Senate floor and that the debate could last eight hours.

The news conference in question was held by David Dewhurst, who beat his chest and clung to outside agitator Rick Santorum in a pathetic attempt to look like he was in charge of something. While it had originally looked like the Senate vote on HB2 would wait till Monday, it’s clear that Dewhurst wants to get it over with as quickly as possible so he can minimize the odds of his screwing something up.

No “divine right of succession”

I wish you well with that argument, Tom.

How Greg Abbott views the process, without the wildebeest stampede

How Greg Abbott views the process, without the wildebeest stampede

For those who are already declaring that Attorney General Greg Abbott will be Gov. Rick Perry’s successor, former Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken has a clear message.

“This idea that there’s a divine right of succession, I challenge it and thoroughly,” the gubernatorial candidate said Tuesday in a Capitol news conference. “This is a real battle for the soul of the Republican Party between the outsiders and the people that feel they don’t have a real voice in Austin.”

At his news conference, Pauken also took aim at the state’s school finance system and its budget, saying that as governor, he would take decisive action to make both more efficient. He also declared himself a candidate for all of Texas, not just those who have enough money to pay for lobbyists at the state Capitol. Pauken said his proven track record of listening to the issues and doing something about them will make him stand out among his opponents.

So far, Pauken, who announced his candidacy in March, is the only declared GOP candidate in the 2014 race to succeed Perry, who announced Monday that he would not seek re-election. Although Abbott has not declared his candidacy for the position, speculation has run rampant that he will throw his hat in the ring and become the instant favorite.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Pauken said he is running on authentic conservative principles, criticizing the “pretend conservatism” that he says many in Texas have adopted.

“It’s not a conservatism of the heart, it’s not a conservatism that takes the fight to the left that lays out here’s what we’re going to do,” Pauken said of the philosophy he opposes. “It’s taking the easy road of reading polls, seeing what the base wants to hear and giving them that.”

Pauken said that real conservatives listen to regular people, not just those who have enough money to pay for lobbyists. Conservatives are serious about ideas and solving problems, not just saying what people want to hear, Pauken said.

Yeah, good luck with that. I’m pretty sure that Abbott’s campaign, to whatever extent that he bothers to run one, will be hagiographic videos and “ME HATE OBAMA” chest-thumping. The over/under for his percentage in the GOP primary is set at 75 right now. Tom Pauken is hardly my idea of a good Governor, but to the extent that he actually has ideas and wants to Do Something about the real-world problems that Texas faces, he’s about a billion times better than Abbott. And it won’t do him a damn bit of good. Trail Blazers has more.

Chron favors Uptown transit plan

Good to see, and I think they make a decent point.

We’re glad that Houston-area transportation officials have approved federal funds for an Uptown bus rapid transit (BRT) system.

[…]

But we’re struck by [Harris County Judge Ed] Emmett’s vote against the plan at the Galveston-Houston Area Council Transportation Policy Council.

Emmett is no knee jerk mass transit opponent. Harris County’s resident transit nerd, these sorts of issues are his bread and butter, and the Uptown Houston Management District should heed his concerns. If the BRT is going to be built for office workers, then it should meet those needs.

We believe that means bus stops large enough and service often enough to accommodate rush-hour crowds; protected crosswalks and wide sidewalks that make it easy to get from buses to the office; shade and cover to make those walks comfortable. Adding B-Cycle rental stations and designated bike routes to this Uptown project could also help bridge the gap from bus stop to office door.

Unlike downtown’s Park and Ride buses, stops won’t be immediately outside of office buildings and there isn’t an underground tunnel system to avoid the heat. Houston neighborhoods are rarely built with pedestrians in mind, and BRT will only live up to the full potential if this overhaul of Uptown transit addresses every inch of the commuter route – transfers and walks included.

See here for the background. I am of course delighted to see the Chron get on board with the idea of using B-Cycle to enhance and extend the BRT/commuter bus network, since I’ve been advocating for that all along. I do agree that it would be wise for the Uptown Management District to take pedestrian concerns seriously. If Judge Emmett has any thoughts about how those concerns might be addressed, I’m sure we’d be glad to hear them. The bottom line remains that this is a worthwhile idea, and we should do every reasonable thing we can to make it work.