This legislation will do more to undermine the State’s ABC laws than anything in a long time
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Lawmakers on Monday night did away with one of the key distinctions between restaurants and bars, paving the way for more of the latter. Approved by the Senate, 30 to 13, House Bill 1228 eliminates the three-day waiting period for membership in private clubs.
“This legislation will do more to undermine the state’s control of alcoholic beverage sales than any bill we’ve seen in a long time,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, Executive Director of the Christian Action League. “Legislators have set the stage for a proliferation of bars across North Carolina.”
Sponsored by Rep. Pryor Gibson (D-Anson) and pushed through the Senate by Sen. Julia Boseman (D-New Hanover), the measure was promoted as a way to eliminate “discrimination” against Marines and other out-of-towners who are visiting tourist areas and don’t have time to wait the requisite three days before going bar-hopping.
What it will do is open of more drinking establishments directly to the public able to serve alcohol without abiding by the 70/30 alcohol-to-food ratio imposed on restaurants. It will also bring to the table restaurant lobbyists who have already said they will push to have alcohol restrictions at eateries reduced, so that those businesses can better compete with the now public bars.
To reduce those negative effects, Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) proposed an amendment that would have limited the law change to counties with a current population of 150,000 or more and 160,000 or more as of the 2010 Census.
“Let’s remember the reason for the bill. We’re told that … in some of these more urban areas, especially those frequented by service people, there is an over abundance of people … and the restaurants, which have to have a certain amount of sales of food to keep their ABC licenses, can’t accommodate the flood of individuals coming in,” said Berger. He said his amendment would open those areas up to immediate alcohol sales without doing so in smaller towns or more rural areas where restaurateurs, who have invested in full-service kitchens, shouldn’t have to face unfair competition from unrestricted bars.
Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson) also supported the amendment, which would have applied to Guilford, Forsyth, Cumberland, Buncombe, Durham, Gaston, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Onslow and Wake counties, and said travel and tourism representatives in the Hendersonville area did not want bars expanding at the expense of restaurants.
However, Sen. Tony Rand (D-Cumberland) and Sen. Boseman spoke against the amendment. Boseman said she understood Berger’s concerns but opposed the amendment because she feared the House would not concur with the change and the bill might die. The record shows the bill passed (89-28), in May in the House, where representatives voted unanimously for an amendment calling for the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission to regularly report on violations found at private clubs.
“It’s a shame that there wasn’t enough support for Sen. Berger’s amendment, which I believe would have easily won concurrence in the House and would have helped to mitigate the damage this law is going to cause,” said the Rev. Creech.
Senators voted 23-20 against the amendment. (See how your Senator voted on the amendment). The bill is now headed to the Governor’s office for enactment.
Other News Regarding Loosening Alcohol Controls
In other news regarding loosening alcohol controls in North Carolina, lawmakers voted to allow malt beverage tasting events with virtually the same rules as wine tasting by approving House Bill 1595 on Wednesday. The House vote was 83 to 28.
According to the new law, those serving or tasting beer must be at least 21 years old and can be served up to four 2-ounce samples. The law will allow tasting events in grocery stores, shopping malls and other places frequented by youth.
“We all know North Carolina has a problem with underage drinking and beer is the first choice of young drinkers, yet we continue to put it in front of our kids in venue after venue,” said the Rev. Creech.
Another alcohol bill working its way through the General Assembly is House Bill 667 (the Viticulture/Enology Act) which had passed the Senate on July 15 and was sent to the House for concurrence, but has now been referred to the Committee on Alcoholic Beverage Control. This bill would, among other things, expand the definition of a Sports Club to include Equestrian Centers. Sports Clubs are allowed to have alcohol permits without voter approval.
“Right now, there are 10 special provisions that grant permits for alcohol sales without regard for the results of a referendum. This bill will now expand upon 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.”