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Distilleries In Race To Make Sunday Liquor Sales Law In Texas

A lobbying effort to allow Sunday liquor sales will sponsor the #26 car in NASCAR's Xfinity Racing Series at COTA.
Jimmy Maas
/
KUT
A lobbying effort to allow Sunday liquor sales will sponsor the #26 car in NASCAR's Xfinity Racing Series at COTA.

Sunday liquor sales in Texas may not become reality this legislative session, but that's not stopping proponents from making a big statement this weekend at the NASCAR Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas.

The legislative session started out promising, with a number of bills allowing Sunday liquor sales working their way through the Capitol. But as lawmakers enter the last 10 days of the session, what’s left of those bills is currently pending in committee. Lawmakers have only a handful of days to take action on Senate Bill 1013 or tack it onto another bill. Written by Sen. Dawn Buckingham of Lakeway, SB 1013 would allow local jurisdictions the option of allowing liquor sales seven days a week through an election.

Undeterred, a trade group representing industry interests, the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., is taking its “Boot the Ban” campaign to the racetrack. The slogan, which refers to laws prohibiting liquor sales on Sunday, will be splashed across the hood of the Sam Hunt Racing team's number 26 car Saturday, complete with a number to text legislators.

This is the first time in recent memory a lobbying effort for a bill in the Texas Legislature has made it to the hood of a race car. But the industry group is hoping to ride the momentum of the cocktails-to-go bill signed into law last week.

“That is an economic lifeline to restaurants and bars and taverns around the state,” Chris Swonger, president and CEO of DISCUS, said. “And this is just another building block to improve and really modernize Texas' beverage alcohol laws.”

He said Sunday sales would be a benefit for business owners — a position backed by Joanna Salinas, co-founder of Still Austin Whiskey in South Austin.

“If we can get everyone to sit back and think about what’s the rationale for this and why not let us have this opportunity, especially after the challenging year we’ve had,” she said, “I really feel like there’s no decision they can reach other than to allow it.”

The law banning Sunday liquor sales dates back to 1935. After prohibition was repealed, it was up to states to enact controls over alcohol. The Texas Legislature passed the Texas Liquor Control Act, which established a board that would eventually be called the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and a series of rules the board would enforce.

Liquor sales were just one of the many things Texas law used to prevent on Sundays. These laws were commonly referred to as "blue laws" and the only ones left are exclusive to car and alcohol sales.

"It’s these old blue laws that have been around a long time,” Swonger said. “Sometimes people don’t like change, but this is good for Texas consumers.”

In a way, the car sponsorship takes NASCAR back to its roots — only this time working within the law to change the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission rules.

During prohibition, a network of drivers would deliver then-illegal whiskey and other spirits across the country in the dark of night. The drivers would maintain their cars’ normal (or stock) appearances, but their engines would be souped up to outrun the authorities. Those drivers would then race each other on dirt tracks or country roads, laying the groundwork for cup racing.

Got a tip? Email Jimmy Maas at jmaas@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @maasdinero.

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