A Texas-size fight is brewing over barbecue

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is tired of all the talk about barbecue.

He knows a new law this year exempts restaurants — primarily BBQ joints — from having to register scales that show customers how much food is measured out when it’s “sold for immediate consumption.”

His office revamped the scale rules once the law went into effect Sept. 1.

Now the Texas Restaurant Association and a group of lawmakers say Miller is misinterpreting the rules.

They sent a letter to his office stating that the new rules “circumvent the legislative intent” of the law by calling for scales to be removed only from places where food is sold “for immediate consumption ‘on the premises.’ ”

They believe that interpretation limits the number of businesses that will be free from regulation.

So they asked in the letter — signed by 45 lawmakers including state Sens. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, and Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, along with state Rep. Matt Krause — that the rules be rewritten “to better conform with the existing statute.”

“We urge Commissioner Miller to support the original legislative intent of HB 2029 and remove ‘on the premises’ from the Department of Agriculture’s rules,” said Richie Jackson, CEO of the restaurant association.

Miller said this is much ado about nothing.

sid miller
Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller Eric Gay AP

He didn’t like the law in the first place, because he believes “there’s only one reason a BBQ place wants to hide (the scale). They fully intend to cheat the customer.”

Miller said if lawmakers don’t like the law they passed, they should try again when the next regular legislative session resumes in 2019.

“This is the way they wrote it,” Miller said. “I can’t do anything other than what the bill says.”

But just to make sure he’s interpreting the bill right, Miller said he sent his proposed rules and the new law over to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office for review.

“If someone questions whether I’m interpreting the legislation right, I’ll get a second opinion,” Miller said. “But they wrote a bad bill and now they’re mad at me.”

Changing of the guard

The help wanted sign is back in the window at the Tarrant County Elections Office.

Just five months after being named elections administrator, Stephen Vickers — a longtime county worker — has turned in his resignation.

Vickers, of Arlington, has accepted a job with Know Ink, a computer software company that will let him work from home some and spend more time with his family.

“It’s an opportunity I can’t pass up,” he said, adding that he will miss the workers in the elections department.

Vickers, who has worked for the Tarrant County Elections office since 1994, was the third local elections administrator in 11 years. His last day in office will be Nov. 10.

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said the election committee will need to move fast to get a new administrator in place before the March 2018 primary elections.

Hearing all sides

State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, recently expressed concern about the new Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness — which is tasked with examining reasons businesses move to Texas — that was recently created by House Speaker Joe Straus.

In a letter to committee chairman state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, he said he hopes the committee represents all businesses. It was created after the death of the so-called bathroom bill geared to determine which restrooms transgender Texans may use.

“Many Texans are concerned that a handful of politically correct and socially liberal corporations are attempting to speak on behalf of all businesses in Texas,” Tinderholt wrote in his letter.

Tinderholt said he wasn’t singling out any business in his letter. But he stresses that the Texas Association of Business doesn’t represent all sides of the issue.

“I want to make sure all businesses, both sides, are heard,” Tinderholt said. “This is about everything that California is doing wrong that we don’t want to bring to Texas.”

Honey Smoke BBQ in Montgomery Plaza features pit-smoked meats by chef Rodney Lambert, who also discusses his brief stint at Smokey Mae's in Mansfield.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley