The bill was first introduced into the Texas legislature in 2018, but it failed to get a Senate vote by the last day of session in 2019. The bill was reintroduced by its co-sponsors Texas State Sen. Carol Alvarado and Rep. Geanie Morrison and was passed in both the House and Senate in earlier this month.
Music Venues Alliance – Austin has been working on the language of the bill since its inception and MVA’s president and founder Rebecca Reynolds says “it was an easier hill to climb” asking for a rebate rather than a separate tax rate for music venues. Instead of providing a new tax rate to entities saying they are venues, the rebate program allows venues to opt in, prove they are a venue and showing yearly operation as a music venue.
“Creating an opt in process make the fund more manageable budget-wise,” says Reynolds. “It's a much better way of controlling where this money is being invested.”
Eligible venues include those that have been open for two years prior to applying and have a capacity of 3,000 or less. Festival promoters are eligible if they held their event in a county with a population under 100,000. In order to qualify, festivals and venues must pay their artists for performances. Applications will also have to prove they have marketed events, have sound and stage crew, host live events at least five times a week, charge a cover or ticketing fee for shows or other criteria stated in the bill.
“In addition to that, we've set it up so that the fund can receive private money,” Reynolds tells Billboard. “We can market it to corporations and individuals who wish to support live music venues in Texas. We can grow that fund and, in a perfect world, every applicant would get the maximum amount allowable.”
The Music, Film, Television, and Multimedia Office within the office of the governor will need to establish the program by Sept. 1, 2022 but the bill will technically go into effect on Sept. 1, 2021. Applications are expected to open next year and funds will come from last fiscal year.
The rebate is a welcome acknowledgement of the economic and cultural impact live music has on Texas, but Reynolds says it may not have passed without the pandemic shining a light on struggling music venues.
“The pandemic hit and there was a sort of silver lining that it brought to the forefront why venues are unique. They have a different business model. They rely on gathering and they put all their revenue back into producing music,” says Reynolds. “We did a lot of educating lawmakers on why venues are different from bars, why they're different from arts organizations and what we need to do to help them survive.”
As for-profit businesses, music venues generate revenue for cities and states by bringing in tourism, but rarely see any economic support or protections from government entities.
Reynolds also credits the National Independent Venue Association and their work on the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants (previously the Save Our Stages Act), which was brought to the U.S. Congress by bi-partisan sponsors Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). The bipartisan effort at the federal level provided more than $16 billion in grant funds to independent venues and Renyolds says, it gave “lawmakers on both sides of the aisle permission to really go hard on this issue.”
The bill’s success has already attracted interest from venue groups in other states and Reynolds has begun sharing the process for getting the rebate passed with folks in NIVA. She has already spoken with interested groups in New Jersey, Illinois, California, New York, Washington, Oregon and Washington, D.C.
“We want to support communities across the country on how to really invest in their music economy, because it’s good for the culture and it's good the economy,” says Reynolds.