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TABC Looking to Speed Up Alcohol Permitting

The director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission told lawmakers on Wednesday that the agency is working on plans to make obtaining a beer or liquor license simpler and faster.

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It could get quicker and easier for businesses to get licensed to sell alcohol in Texas.

Sherry Cook, the director the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, told the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures on Wednesday that her agency hoped to consolidate its now separate processes for beer and liquor licenses.

Currently, some permit applications for beer and liquor can be processed and approved entirely by TABC, but others require the involvement of county courts, Cook said. 

“It causes us some difficulty in trying to automate those business practices when you have two separate processes that it runs through,” Cook said.

Cook said she has had some discussions with county judges about possible changes. And in documents Cook provided to the committee with her testimony, the TABC said there would be minimal financial loss to counties from permitting. A structure would remain in place to protest permits and licenses.

The plan is still in development, and any changes to the permitting process would have to be approved by the Legislature.

TABC collects more than $200 million every year in taxes and fees. It issues 60 different kinds of permits and licenses, and has issued more than 100,000 licenses in the last two years, according to the agency.

Kimberly Frost, a lawyer with Jack Martin & Associates, which represents alcohol producers, wholesaler and retailers and helps them in the permitting process, said applicants would benefit if TABC switched to an electronic permitting process.

Frost said that when the U.S. Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau — the agency that regulates permitting on the federal level — switched to an electronic filing system, the response time to permits increased significantly. In some cases, such as with winery permits, the response time decreased from 90 days to as few as 30 days, Frost said.

The federal "system used to have a stack of application forms this high, they all had to be signed. Some needed to be in duplicate, some didn’t. Some needed to be notarized, some didn’t. Some had to have a corporate seal impressed in the form, some didn’t,” Frost said. “All of that went away.”

The TABC currently has online renewal for a handful of permits, and plans to include more soon, said agency spokeswoman Carolyn Beck. 

Alex Tapia, strategy specialist of the alcohol awareness group Texans Standing Tall, urged the committee to ensure that the public would still have time to protest permit applications.

“Because alcohol is not an ordinary commodity, and its use is associated with serious public health and safety-related problems, the public should be given the best opportunity possible in the process to voice their concerns to before a license is permitted,” Tapia said.

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