CAL Director says it’s the best alcohol-related proposal he has seen in 20 years
By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
Five murders outside of three Hickory bars in a year’s time sent N.C. Senator Andy Wells (R-Catawba) on a quest to better equip the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control Commission to handle violations before they spawn violence. The result of his labors, a seven-page ABC Regulation and Reform bill, was unanimously approved by the Senate Tuesday.
In addition to raising the legal age for holding an ABC permit from 19 to 21, the bill would increase fines for ABC violations that involve violence, controlled substances or prostitution. It would authorize the ABC Commission to limit a permittee’s operating hours and would require establishments seeking to operate as “private clubs” under ABC laws to first prove that they are nonprofit entities that have been in operation for at least 12 months prior to their permit application.
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, calls the legislation the best alcohol-related proposal he has seen in 20 years.
“The legislation is measured in its approach. It’s not anti-business. It’s not unfair in any manner,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 13. “All that it does is hold bad actors accountable.”
Sen. Wells told the committee that the bill is “about law enforcement, not about promotion of alcohol.”
“This is about doing the one thing that the state government should be doing, and that is controlling the consumption and distribution of alcohol,” Wells said.
He said after the string of murders in Hickory, he pressed the ABC Commission over why none of the bars were shut down, only to find out that 80-year-old ABC statutes grant the commission little power.
“Five bodies lying on asphalt and you asked how many bar permits were revoked … zero,” he said.
Wells said further investigation revealed that forcing problem permit-holders to close earlier in the evening might help prevent violence, but again, he found that the ABC Commission lacks the authority to do so.
“In my case in Hickory, we had operations that operated perfectly fine until 11 p.m. Everything went to hell at 1 a.m. So I said ‘Commission, why don’t you just shut them down at 11 p.m.?’ And they said, ‘We can’t. The law won’t allow us to do that.’” Wells explained. “This bill will allow them to do that.”
He said the measure, drafted with input from the Commission and from Alcohol Law Enforcement, would prevent bar managers who do not qualify for their own permits because of poor past behavior from operating under someone else’s, a situation that he has witnessed firsthand. The bill would also allow local law enforcement agencies to work with the ABC Commission legal division staff in certain undercover operations which could result in the ABC permits being suspended or revoked. As the law now reads, only ALE agents or local ABC board officers can do so.
“We are not trying to get people out of the bar business,” Wells said. “We are just trying to get the bad people out.”
Renee Metz, chief counsel for ABC, said although the Commission, as a practice, does not endorse legislation, she has been working with Wells on the bill.
“I do believe this cleans up some of the concerns that he had,” Metz said.
Creech said the bill’s penalties demonstrate patience, “giving establishments an opportunity to correct their course, while at the same time making them aware of the gravity of responsibility which comes with running their kind of establishment.”
“It’s purpose is to also clarify matters that have been somewhat unclear in the past,” he said.
Senate Bill 11 is awaiting action in the N.C. House.