The Texas Restaurant Association is currently supporting a long list of Texas legislators in solidarity against a misinterpretation of the “BBQ Bill” written into the rules by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA). (Read the letter here).
House Bill 2029 (the BBQ Bill) repeals a burdensome state law requiring restaurants that sell food by weight maintain a certified scale, pay a $35 annual fee and display a sticker visible to the consumer at all times. This bill unanimously passed the Texas Legislature this spring, was signed by the governor and had widespread and vocal industry support.
The new law eliminates inspections and certification of scales used for food sold for immediate consumption without regard to where food is eaten. However, TDA rules circumvent the legislative intent of the bill in its rules, only exempting scales at food establishments where food is sold for immediate consumption “on the premises.” By including this caveat, TDA vastly narrowed the number of businesses that would have enjoyed the freedom from regulation.
In addition, there are recent reports of continued TDA inspections of scales’ certification and visibility – a clear misinterpretation of the law.
Commissioner of Agriculture Sid Miller originally argued for a veto of the bill. An article in Texas Monthly earlier this year quoted Miller as saying that there is a better than a 50-50 chance that HB 2029 will be vetoed by Governor Abbott. He said that the old system, “…prevents any dishonest business owner from putting their thumb on the scale and ripping us off.”
As far as consumer protection and transparency, solutions are already in place. Customers turn to social media sites such as Yelp or Facebook in the event of a restaurant complaint, rather than call a 1-800 number at the Department of Agriculture. According to the Texas Monthly article, there have been very few customer complaints concerning the weight of food in the first place.
In response, a bi-partisan letter, signed by 45 senators and representatives was fired off to Miller this afternoon, urging the commissioner to revise the newly adopted rule to better conform with the existing statue created by HB 2029. The Texas Restaurant Association urged the Department to revise the rules as well.
“The rules laid out by TDA are a clear misinterpretation of the intent of this bill. Its original purpose was to ease the burden of overregulation on our businesses and constituents,” says Richie Jackson, CEO of TRA. “Certified scales in restaurants is more about collecting fees than protecting our customers. We urge Commissioner Miller to support the original legislative intent of HR 2029 and remove ‘on the premises’ from the Department of Agriculture’s rules.”
Added costs for businesses ultimately affect the consumer. The costs for restaurants to comply with the requirements of certified scales visible to the public can reach thousands of dollars. Many restaurants are not designed to have the kitchen or prep areas, where scales are often kept, visible to the customer to enable the customer to see the scales or the consumer sticker, due to Department of Health regulations. They would have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to redesign kitchens, counterspaces, check-out lines, and pay stations to make scales visible to the customer.
Additionally, the letter points out that complaints from business owners are already being heard by lawmakers after only one month of the new rule. It goes on to state that the, “…idea that a business could be fined and possibly even face an injunction, over a non-visible weight scale for food apportionment goes against Texas’ pro-business culture and could result in the loss of jobs.”