Video Gambling, Modernization of ABC, Liquor Tasting Events, and Adoption…contact your lawmaker on video gambling now!
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Unless House Democrats decide soon to bring the sweepstakes ban to the floor for a vote, lawmakers could leave Raleigh having missed a crucial opportunity to pull the plug on cyber gambling outlets popping up all over the state.
“Gambling is pervasive, and if this stuff isn’t banned it will corrupt us like a cancer — deadly to the soul and character of this great state,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “The time for the ban is now. House members need to hear from their constituents.”
Outlawed in North Carolina in 2006, video poker morphed into server-based gambling and then video sweepstakes staying one step ahead of lawmakers thanks to a pair of confusing superior court rulings. But the Senate approved House Bill 80 (47-to-1) on June 21, to make it crystal clear that not only video poker but also any electronic games that mimic it are not welcome in the Tar Heel state. All the House has to do is concur for the bill to become law, but some legislators, especially those with their names on the ballot come November, are nervous about addressing the issue during an election year.
“Add to that the fact that the video poker industry is sending hundreds of e-mails daily to lawmakers and you can see why they are getting nervous,” the Rev. Creech said. “But they can’t put it off until next year and expect any less controversy. Instead of getting better, it will be much worse.”
Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Madison, a longtime leader in the fight against video poker, told the Asheville Citizen-Times that about five new sweepstakes parlors open every day across the state.
“Within six more months the industry will have pocketed a lot more money to fight the ban and by then will have a stronghold that will make the battle much harder in 2011,” Creech said. “That’s why it’s imperative that folks call their legislators this weekend and demand a ban now.” (To contact you your lawmaker, click here)
The clock is also ticking on the much-discussed ABC Modernization bill currently stuck in the Senate Finance Committee while lawmakers haggle over a rule regarding winery contracts with wholesalers.
“This provision, added in at the 11th hour as Section 25, really has nothing to do with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission,” the Rev. Creech said. “If this issue winds up killing the bill, it would be a real travesty.”
The House passed H 1717 including the prickly provision June 29, but the Senate Judiciary II committee was presented a proposed committee substitute without the “obligations of purchaser” language. While Sen. Austin Allran (R-Catawba) repeatedly lamented that the committee would not get a chance to entertain the issue, others saw the wisdom in moving forward with legislation focused mainly on tighter controls and increased transparency for local ABC boards.
“What we’re trying to do here is work on the ethics, the transparency, the operations, and I don’t think Section 25 had anything substantial to do with that,” said Sen. Joe Sam Queen (D-Avery). “So, I think we have a very good bill and should pass it on and continue to look at this down the road.”
Representatives from The Wine Institute oppose the purchaser obligations section, but the North Carolina Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association says it is needed to protect distributors from foreign investors who can buy a wine label already marketed at great expense by one distributor and switch to another. Wine industry representatives said two weeks of discussion of the provision is not a fair hearing and that the ABC bill is not the right vehicle for the measure.
Both the N.C. Association of ABC Boards and the N.C. League of Municipalities urged the committee to move the ABC Modernization Bill forward though neither was completely happy with all its aspects.
“We support some of the provisions and we don’t like some of them, but I would ask you to leave the bill alone and not add anything more to it,” said John Carr, lobbyist for the N.C. Association of ABC Boards.
Sen. Charlie Dannelly (D-Mecklenburg) expressed similar views.
“Everybody will not get ‘their thing’ in this bill but there will be opportunities later on,” he told fellow committee members.
The Judiciary II committee approved the committee substitute, sending the bill on to the Finance Committee where it may be taken up as early as Tuesday (July 6) afternoon.
In other alcohol news, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed the state budget bill, which included a provision to allow on-premise liquor tasting events at North Carolina-based distilleries. The House had taken the liquor sampling portion out of its version of the bill, but the Joint Conferees of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural and Economic Resources put it back in.
“This is the exact reason that we contend that alcohol issues should be stand-alone bills and not tucked inside other legislation,” said the Rev. Creech. “I’m convinced that they stuck it in the budget bill so we wouldn’t be able to get to it.”
The new law will initially affect seven North Carolina companies from Avery to Onslow counties, but could also set the stage for a stronger push for more widespread events.
“Once we’ve opened this door, the next most likely setting for a tasting event will be the state’s ABC stores,” said the Rev. Creech. “It won’t stop here.”
In other legislative news, the House is set to take up a bill that would break a promise to birth mothers and could make abortion more appealing for some. House Bill 1463 — Expand Access/Confidential Intermediaries — passed the Senate June 23 and is on the House calendar for Tuesday (July 6).
The bill would allow adult biological siblings and biological half siblings of adult adoptees, adult family members of deceased adoptees and adult family members of deceased biological parents to have access to confidential intermediary services so that an agency would be allowed to release identifying information even if the deceased biological parent or adoptee never consented. Current law already allows for adoption agencies and departments of social services to act as confidential intermediaries between adult adoptees and their biological parents, but only after written consent has been received from both parties. Allowing information to be given without consent, even after the death of a biological parent, could have a chilling effect on adoption.
“Everything that the bill changes can currently be done in court, and we think that is wise,” said Brittany Farrell, assistant director of policy for the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “We don’t see a compelling reason to make the process easier for other relatives.”
She said expanding the access to adoption information beyond the immediate parties involved can blur the lines between a closed and open adoption and undermine confidence in the process.
“Consider it from the birthparent’s perspective. That person may be in a very difficult situation when she makes the choice to place her baby for adoption,” Farrell said. “She may not tell some members of her family and may never want them to know.”
The Rev. Creech said confidentiality in the adoption process should be considered a sacred trust.
“If biological mothers know their identity is not safe, they may choose abortion rather than risk people finding out about the adoption,” he said.