By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
September 7, 2023
Happy hours, Sunday liquor sales and cocktails to-go — not to mention a slew of other rule-loosening provisions — may soon be a reality across the state, as the alcohol industry appears to tighten its grip on North Carolina lawmakers.
On Tuesday, in a room full of industry lobbyists, the House ABC Committee gave unanimous approval to Senate Bill 527, an omnibus bill that signals a “complete paradigm shift in alcohol control policies for the Tar Heel State,” says the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. WRAL called the measure “a major overhaul of North Carolina’s alcohol laws.”
Testifying against the bill, Creech warned committee members that lifting restrictions on alcohol policy could lead to dangerous alcohol consumption rates, both in terms of overall volume and binge drinking. He pointed out the range of health problems, from liver damage to addiction and mental health disorders, that often result from alcohol abuse and also reminded them of public safety concerns such as drunken driving, alcohol-induced accidents and increased risks of violent behavior.
Top among the CAL’s concerns about SB 527 is the fact that it would allow for local ABC boards to begin opening their stores on Sundays and holidays, with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Studies show the health benefits of taking a break from drinking for one day a week, Creech told lawmakers, adding that not having ABC stores open on Sundays helps promote responsible consumption as well as family time and religious observance. He cited studies showing that areas with so-called “blue laws” have lower rates of excessive drinking and alcohol-related problems than areas without Sunday sales restrictions.
In a letter and a bill analysis emailed to legislators, Creech also cautioned against the loosening of rules around alcohol advertising and merchandising.
“It has been a long-time understanding in North Carolina that ABC stores do not advertise because their role is one of control, not profit,” he pointed out, warning that when individuals are bombarded with messages about alcohol, they are more likely to consume more than they would have otherwise.
The CAL called legislators attention to 11 serious concerns regarding the bill’s 30 provisions. Among them are provisions that would establish ill-defined “mobile bars” and expand the sale of mixed beverages at certain performing arts facilities. The bill would bring back happy hours that the state astutely banned in the 1980s to help mitigate drunk driving.
As if that is not enough access to alcohol, SB 527 would allow restaurants and bars to offer take-out and delivery cocktails, a practice that got a test run of sorts during Covid lockdowns. It would allow the Catawba Indian tribe to have its own ABC system, would allow ABC stores to sell gift cards, would loosen rules on selling booze on trains, and in a new provision added Tuesday, would let community colleges sell beer and wine at sporting events. Oddly enough, there’s even a section in the bill giving a tax break to a Durham Company that plans to send its whiskey into outer space.
Perhaps the most egregious part of the proposed legislation is that it was developed with what seems to be a callous disregard for public health, the Rev. Creech said.
“There are a number of groups in the state which address the question of what is and what isn’t responsible alcohol policy. None of them were invited to be a part of this bill’s development,” he wrote to lawmakers.
“This bill is purely industry-driven and is essentially untempered by concerns for public health and safety,” Creech said. “These proposed changes may line the alcohol industry’s pockets with prosperity, but their fortune will come at the expense of our state’s citizens.”
SB 527 has a serial referral. It now heads to the House Finance Committee, then to Houe Rules, and then to the House floor.