By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
July 7, 2016
RALEIGH – A bill that would have circumvented the will of Alexander County voters, created an end-run around current alcohol law and violated the North Carolina Constitution was stopped in its tracks earlier this month when the House refused to concur with the Senate’s version of HB 884.
The Christian Action League lobbied against the bill in both chambers, providing House members with vital information about the measure’s unconstitutionality before their July 1 vote.
“Because our state’s constitution prohibits legislation that regulates local trade, and alcohol is considered a trade, any alcohol legislation must be applied statewide,” explained the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
Instead, House Bill 884, which initially had nothing to do with alcohol and won House approval while titled “Reinstate Setoff Debt Collection/UNC Health,” was gutted in the Senate and became “Amend ABC Township Elections,” a proposal that would apply only to Wittenburg Township in Alexander County and would therefore be a local bill.
Had it passed, it would have allowed Wittenburg Township to hold its own ABC referendum despite the fact that Alexander County voters defeated alcohol sales in 2013.
“Numerous citizens from that county have urged us to oppose this legislation on their behalf,” Dr. Creech told lawmakers. He said Jeff Chapman, president of Alexander Citizens for Faith and Family Values was especially disappointed in late May when the Alexander County Board of Commissioners voted to request the legislation.
After a rocky start in the Senate, with an initial 21-25 defeat on Second Reading, the measure was saved by a parliamentary procedure on the Senate floor. After some back-room arm twisting of Republicans and deals with Democrats, the measure revived and passed the upper chamber 36-6.
Alexander County Republican lawmakers Sen. Andy Wells and Rep. Lee Zachary championed the bill, but Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake) argued vigorously against it, as did representatives Jamie Boles (R-Moore), Jeff Collins (R-Nash) and Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg).
Stam, who has successfully argued two Superior Court cases on the matter, said the bill was “blatantly unconstitutional” and “on a scale of 1-to-10 of unconstitutionality, it’s an 11.”
He explained that Article II of the Constitution prohibits local bills on certain subjects and makes them “utterly void” if adopted. One of those subjects is regulation of trade, which includes the sale of alcohol.
Zachary disagreed, claiming the bill was more about giving the people an opportunity to vote than directly about alcohol permitting and sales. But Bishop, also an attorney, backed Stam’s assertions and said the law prohibiting local bills that govern trade is clear.
“If something violates the Constitution, it is our duty to oppose it. It’s just that simple,” he said.
Collins opposed the bill because it would negate the actions of Alexander County voters.
“If we accept this bill…we are thwarting the will of the actual people who have spoken on the issue,” he said. “So I would certainly hope those of us who are such champions of the people and of not imposing the state’s will on locales, people who in fact already expressed their opinion at the ballot box… I certainly hope we will back them up and vote red on this bill.”
Boles, who serves as chairman of the House Alcoholic Beverage Control Committee, opposed the matter on several grounds, not the least of which was its 11th-hour appearance and unconventional path to the House floor.
“Here we go again. It’s the ninth inning with two outs and all of a sudden we see an ABC bill,” Boles said, somewhat berating his colleagues for failing to file the bill earlier so that it could have been properly vetted by House committees.
After more than 20 minutes of debate, the House voted 83 to 20 not to concur with the Senate’s version of the bill and then 90-9 to withdraw it from the calendar to be re-referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House, where it was left to die.