EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Members of the Texas legislature are in talks to permanently allow restaurants to offer to-go and pick-up alcohol services.
H.B. 1024, a bill that would put Gov. Abbott’s emergency waiver established at the beginning of the pandemic into law, is making its way through the state House and Senate and receiving bipartisan support.
“Those waivers helped restaurants recoup a lot of lost revenue and allowed them to keep employees on staff,” State Senator Cesar J. Blanco tells KTSM 9 News.
“There was a survey done by the National Restaurant Association back in May that said that 61 percent of Texans who who ordered during the week prior to being surveyed ordered an alcoholic beverage as part of their purchase,” adds Blanco.
If you build it, they will come — and take their drinks to go.
The Texas Restaurant Association (TRA) worked on legislation with state senators in an effort to help keep restaurants alive. Across Texas, advocates are urging people to drink responsibly, whether it’s at home or at a bar or restaurant.
“In this industry, we quickly realized the potential for that to not only help us get through the pandemic and economic crisis, but also to bring us into the future,” Kelsey Erickson Streufert, TRA’s vice president of Government Relations and Advocacy, told KTSM 9 News. “We know that the industry is heading in that direction, and it’s what our consumers want.”
The TRA said offering alcohol to-go would provide much-needed revenue to small businesses still recovering from the pandemic. The TRA reports that about 700,000 restaurant employees in Texas were let go since the beginning of the pandemic and about 10,000 restaurants have shuttered their doors.
“Alcohol-to-go was something that began as part of efforts to help restaurants struggling during the pandemic and it’s proven safe and convenient for consumers as well,” House Speaker Joe Moody told KTSM 9 News. “El Paso businesses will benefit from the additional revenue it will continue to create and El Pasoans will have more options for making their purchases.”
The option to solidify Texans’ ability to pick up alcoholic beverages comes with concerns over safety issues like drinking and driving.
“It’s very important for us to share that drunk driving is 100 percent preventable and we want individuals and establishments to be able to make good decisions,” said Vanessa Marquez, Victims Services Managers at Mothers Against Drunk Driving in El Paso.
Moody said that existing laws around alcohol sales and TABC enforcement will help ensure people are protected.
“There are many laws in place around alcohol sales, such as checking identification and not serving those who are already intoxicated, and those will continue to be enforced,” says Moody. “TABC also provides training to retailers that can be adjusted to account for alcohol-to-go sales.”
Advocates hope to take a holistic and cooperative approach at ensuring public safety by creating a multi-partner task force.
“When you increase access and accessibility, our first thought, of course, is how to make sure this stays out of the hands of kids,” Nicole Holt, CEO of Texans for Safe and Drugfree Youth tells KTSM.
“Our thought around the task force is that should have players at the table, which would be public health experts who understand prevention access, and youth substance use,” she adds.
Holt says additional task force partners would include representatives from law enforcement, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and more.
The unilateral support of the alcohol to-go bills is making members of the El Paso delegation of the Texas legislature hopeful when it comes to ensuring Borderland survival.
“We’re still in a pandemic and we still have to think about post-pandemic,” says State Representative Claudia Ordaz Perez.
“How are we going to get these small businesses through this?” asks Ordaz Perez.
“This is just one of those tools that’s going to help these businesses stay afloat.”