Christian Action League
A bill (SB 6 ABC Rules/Private Clubs) that would amend current law regarding the authority of the ABC Commission to adopt rules concerning private clubs, by deleting the specific requirements that private clubs have a waiting period for membership, was temporarily withdrawn for consideration from the Committee On Commerce, Small Business, and Entrepreneurship on Wednesday.
Proponents of the measure argue that current law prevents military and other visitors in certain areas such as Wilmington from easy access to alcohol sales. They want the three day waiting period for membership for private clubs removed.
Current statutes define a private club as “An establishment that is organized and operated solely for a social, recreational, patriotic, or fraternal purpose and that is not open to the general public, but is open only to the members of the organization and their bona fide guests” G.S. 18B-1000(5). Private clubs are eligible to sell alcoholic beverages that are lawful in their jurisdiction.
The ABC Commission has statutory authority to set rules regarding private clubs. In addition to including the collection of an annual membership fee, requiring each member to compete a written application, it is a mandatory requirement that private clubs grant no membership sooner than three days after receipt of an application for membership.
SB 6 would amend current law by deleting the specific grant of authority to adopt a rule requiring that a private club have any waiting period for membership. It would also direct the ABC Commission to keep a record of violations and noncompliance with Commission rules for ABC establishments operating as private clubs and to report its findings to the Joint Legislative Corrections, Crime Control, and Juvenile Justice Oversight Committee prior to the convening of the 2011 Regular session of the General Assembly.
“We appreciate the fact that the legislation has some accountability to it,” said Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “But private clubs are defined by statute as establishments that are not open to the general public. If the three day waiting period is eliminated, private clubs will essentially be open to the general public whenever a patron visits a private club. I think that reduces the parity between restaurants and private clubs, inadvertently creating bars across the State and ultimately reducing control that protects the public health.”
Creech explains that restaurants are required to have gross receipts from food of no less than 30 percent. Restaurants must have a kitchen and inside dining area that seats at least 36 people and are prohibited from serving alcohol unless the kitchen is open. The waiting period, he says, is the primary distinction between a private club and a restaurant – private clubs not being open to the general public, and restaurants that are open to the general public. “If that waiting period is eliminated, there will essentially be little rationale for retaining other distinctions between the two types of permittees,” he says. “What that will ultimately produce,” he adds, “is that the restaurants will justifiably comeback to the General Assembly advocating that they should be subject only to the minimum standards that private clubs must meet in order to sell alcohol, or that the private clubs should be subject to the more restrictive standards the restaurants have to comply in order to sell alcohol.” Either way, there will be a future dilemma created, private clubs will be able to operate like bars, and the most likely scenario is that restaurants will want more freedom by removing the 30 percent requirement.
Creech told the Committee on Wednesday that the waiting period needs to remain, or some sort of amendment made that provides a clear and not an incidental distinction between restaurants and private clubs. He suggested a waiver of the three day rule for out of state residents, or out of county residents, but maintaining the legal distinctions between restaurants and private clubs, might suffice as an acceptable compromise. “Otherwise,” said Creech, “The Christian Action League believes this legislation will eventually lead to a dismantling of the current, already relatively low standards for restaurants to serve alcohol.
During the Committee meeting Jonathan Carr, lobbyist for the Restaurant Lodging Association agreed that removing the mandatory waiting period would create a competitive advantage for private clubs over restaurants and acknowledged the suggested compromise would suffice.
Rep. Larry Brown (R-Forsyth) was willing to offer the compromise amendment. But Rep. Ty Harrell (D-Wake) who was handling the bill for its primary sponsor on the Senate side, Sen. Julia Boseman (D- New Hanover), said he would prefer to withdraw the measure until he could check with Sen. Boseman about any amendments.
When SB 6 will come before the Committee again is uncertain.