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Alcohol Work Groups a Model of Transparency and Good Government

A lot gets said, written and flat out complained about regarding the transparency of Government, be it on the local, state or federal levels. We all know I’ve been guilty of it myself. With that said, I thought I’d share my experience in working on beer issues at the Legislature in the interim both as an inside looking into the process of “making the sausage” and to point out how impressed I was with this method of governing. I’d go so far as to say that the Alcohol Working Groups hosted by Senators Carona and Van de Putte in the interim should be viewed as a model of Government working to serve the best interests of the state and its citizens.

In a bold step, Senator John Carona (R-Dallas) appointed Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) to head working groups to look into any modernization that may need to be made to the Alcoholic Beverage Code in order to foster economic growth in Texas and to eliminate unconstitutional segments of the code which puts the state at risk of litigation.

I have to admit, I was a little skeptical at first, especially when the first invitations to the working group came out and it was scheduled during the Craft Brewers Conference and World Beer Cup when the majority of the state’s craft brewers would be in another state. So spun the conspiracy theory wheels that reside in the back of my mind at all times. Luckily my friend and colleague Brock Wagner of Saint Arnold Brewing Company was able to stay behind and represent craft brewers at the meeting, which turned out to mostly be administrative in nature.

With everyone back from the conference, things really kicked into gear. The Working Group at large split into industry segments (Wine, Distilled Spirits and Beer). I don’t know how things went with the other two industry segment groups, but our beer group quickly switched gears from administrative to very substantive. Stakeholders from throughout the beer industry (brewers large and small, distributors large and small, retailer groups, and consumer groups like Open The Taps) were all in attendance debating the merits or changing or preserving the system as it exists today.

Although a lot of the industry work and interact with each other on a daily basis, these working groups provided the first real opportunity for everyone to come together and discuss issues from a philosophical, big picture perspective. What emerged was a better understanding by all of the perspective and positions of other industry tiers. Speaking for myself only, I know I left the numerous discussions and negotiations with a better appreciation of the needs of the large brewers and distributors we can sometimes find ourselves at odds with. At the same time, I feel that with the help of some of my colleagues, we did a tremendous job of explaining to these same large brewers and distributors what our needs are. The result has been an extremely positive step towards drafting a regulatory system that is advantageous to all stakeholders and fosters economic growth for the state. At the same time, having Legislative staff in the room for all these meetings helped keep everyone honest, but more importantly it thrust them right into a position where they got an intensive boot camp on the subject and are now fluent on the issues facing the state. One of the biggest challenges in the past has been that our elected officials really didn’t understand our complex alcoholic beverage code (nor should they be expected to be experts on every part of Texas’s statutes). Today, we have Capitol staff who understand the issues and guide the state towards the best outcome.

This  transparent framework for governance that invited, encouraged and fostered stakeholder participation should be viewed as a positive development by Texas citizens. We had input from a wide arrange of positions and everyone was invited. No one can stand before the Legislature with any shred of integrity and say they never had a chance to have input on the direction our alcohol regulatory environment is headed, and that is a good thing.

I’m looking forward to this session, and I’m looking forward to seeing the work we have done in the interim develop into bills filed by the Senate and the House and then eventually become law. Years from now we will look back at the economic impact this legislation will have had and tip our hats to all the participants of this working group who made it happen.