One bill sets the stage for the proliferation of bars
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
Urgent: Take Christian Action by contacting your lawmakers on these bills
RALEIGH — Three bills designed to weaken alcohol control in North Carolina earned quick approval in the Senate Wednesday. Two, the Viticulture Enology Act and the Malt Beverage Special Permit bill, are headed to the House for concurrence, with the ABC Rules/Private Clubs bill slated for third reading on Monday, July 20.
“Sadly, as is often the case when pro-alcohol bills are presented, there was no debate on two of these bills. Fortunately, one drew an objection on third reading. So we have this weekend to contact Senators and urge them to vote against or amend the Private Clubs measure in the Senate,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, Executive Director of the Christian Action League, who had addressed the bills earlier in the week in speeches before the Senate committees on Commerce and Finance. “The effect of the Viticulture Enology Act is to undermine local option alcohol referenda, the Malt Beverage Bill exacerbates alcohol related problems stemming from beer, and the Private Clubs bill sets the stage for a proliferation of bars across North Carolina.”
House Bill 1228, introduced by Rep. Pryor Gibson (D-Anson), would eliminate the three-day waiting period for membership in private clubs, a rule that proponents of the bill argue inhibits business interests, especially in resort areas. Sen. Julia Boseman (D-New Hanover) said the move would help Marines who are “trying to enjoy some of Wilmington’s downtown nightlife.”
What it will also do is make private clubs open to the general public in the same way as restaurants and ultimately lead to a lowering of a restaurant’s requirement of accompanying food sales.
“Private clubs are defined by statute as not open to the general public. If the waiting period is removed, private clubs will be open for alcohol sales just like restaurants,” said the Rev. Creech. “Currently, restaurants that offer alcohol must have gross receipts from food of no less than 30 percent, a kitchen and an inside dining area to seat at least 36. If the private clubs waiting period is dropped, restaurant owners will legitimately argue that they are being held to a competitive disadvantage because private clubs have no such requirements. They will then push to have their standards lowered or eliminated.”
In fact, the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association has said it will call on lawmakers to re-examine the restaurant restrictions if the bill passes. Senators voted 37 to 10 in favor of the measure on second reading Wednesday with Sen. Phil Berger’s (R-Rockingham) objection keeping it on the calendar for one more vote.
“Over the years North Carolina has amended the restaurant standard for gross receipts for the alcohol-to-food ratio from 50/50 to 60/40 to 70/30,” the Rev. Creech said. “If this legislation becomes law, it threatens to do away with any requirement at all for restaurants — inadvertently and technically creating a proliferation of bars.”
Creech suggested lawmakers consider simply waiving the private clubs’ three-day waiting period for out-of-state or out-of-county residents as a way to allow tourists easier access to alcohol without dissolving the legal distinctions between restaurants and private clubs. But no such amendment was ever offered by lawmakers during committee hearings. The bill passed the House in mid-May.
It will come back before the Senate on Monday for third reading.
“Anyone concerned about this issue and the fallout that will bring many more bars to North Carolina should contact his or her Senator and urge a no vote on this bill as it now stands,” said the Rev. Creech. “Our hope is that it could be defeated or at least amended to allow the out-of-county resident waiver and not drop the entire waiting period.”
Ask your Senator to either vote against or amend HB 1228 ABC Rules/ Private Clubs by clicking here
Read a related story on the Private Clubs bill covered by the Fayetteville Observer: Bar-hopping about to become easier
Senators on Wednesday also approved a bill authorizing the ABC Commission to issue permits for malt beverage tasting at grocery stores and other food establishments as well as trade shows, conventions, malls, festivals and other events. Sponsored by Rep. Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) and Rep. Deborah Ross (D-Wake), House Bill 1595 calls on the state to treat beer as it does wine in this regard.
“In 2001, this Senate approved wine tasting in retail stores by special permit,” said. Sen. Floyd B. McKissick Jr. (D-Durham) describing the growth of the wine industry, which has tripled. “It would be great if our small breweries could grow and thrive the same way the wine industry did in this state when we allowed this type of wine tastings to take place.”
However, the Rev. Creech points out that beer is not like wine and should not be treated as such.
“Beer is disproportionately consumed relative to wine, accounting for 81 percent of all alcohol consumed in hazardous amounts,” he said. “We know North Carolina has a serious underage drinking problem, with beer as the primary choice of underage drinkers, and yet this bill would allow tasting events where youth will walk into grocery stores, shopping malls, etc., and see and hear adults lauding the praises of beer.”
The bill would require that those serving or tasting beer be at least 21 years old, that the events last no more than four hours and that samples be no larger than 2 ounces each.
Creech pointed out that the General Assembly gave a real boost to the beer industry in 2005, amending the definition of a malt beverage from 6 percent alcohol volume to 15 percent. Even now, specialty and craft beers are taxed according to the 6 percent rate and not based on alcohol by volume as are wine and spirits.
“To argue that North Carolina’s control policies should be as liberal with beer as with wine is not a reasonable conclusion,” the Rev. Creech said.
Nonetheless, the Senate approved the bill 36 to 11 and sent it to the House for concurrence. An earlier version passed the House 91 to 23 last month.
Ask your Representative in the North Carolina House to vote against concurrence to HB 1595 – Malt Beverage Special Permit by clicking here
Read a related story covered by the Raleigh News and Observer on the Beer Tastings Bill: Beer May Join Grocery Sample
Another alcohol bill zipping through the Senate was House Bill 667, sponsored by Rep. Melanie Goodwin (D-Richmond), expands the definition of a Sports Club to include Equestrian Centers. Sports Clubs are already allowed to have alcohol permits without a referendum.
“Right now, there are 10 special provisions that grant permits for alcohol sales without regard for the results of a referendum — Historic ABC Establishment, Special ABC Area, Tourism ABC Establishment, Tourism Resort, Recreation District, Residential Private Club, Sports Club, Interstate Interchange Economic Development Zones, National Historic District, and Permits Based on Existing Permits. This bill will expand that,” said the Rev. Creech. “Local option alcohol referenda should be treated as sacredly as any other right at the ballot box. Special provisions render the will of the people secondary to the will of special interests.”
In addition to the change involving Equestrian Centers, the bill would allow colleges or universities with a Viticulture/Enology course to sell unfortified wine at a non-campus location. It would allow wineries with off-premise permits to sell unfortified wine at their premises and at an additional location in their county.
The bill passed the Senate 38 to 8 with a slight amendment and is headed to the House for concurrence.
Ask your Representative in the North Carolina House to vote against concurrence to HB 667 – 2009 Viticulture/Enology Act by clicking here
Amid the push for loosening alcohol regulations, state lawmakers did manage to approve one positive measure that could affect residents of Guilford County.
Senate Bill 68 will allow the State ABC Commission, in deciding where a new ABC store can be located in that county, to consider whether a proposed location is within 1,000 feet of a church or school. The bill grew out of a controversy between the school board in Greensboro and the ABC Board when the latter planned to situate a store some 1,700 feet west of SCALE Academy.
“This is a good bill,” said the Rev. Creech. “I’m just disappointed that it couldn’t have been applied statewide.”
The bill passed the House more than a week ago and was approved, 46-0, in the Senate on Tuesday.