By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
Despite the best efforts of a trio of Senators who tried to warn fellow lawmakers of the dangers of making alcohol more available in the state, the Senate on Thursday of last week approved a bill that would have extended alcohol sales by some 13 hours per week and would have allowed alcohol at hotels, convention centers, food markets, restaurants or performing arts centers with 2,000 or fewer seats at certain properties of the University of North Carolina system without an electoral vote.
When routed to the House for consideration, however, the bill met with considerable opposition.
Originally, HB 769 was a bill sponsored by Rep. Tim Moffitt (R-Buncombe) to study the property tax valuation process. The measure had passed the House and gone to the Senate, where the Senate Rules Committee stripped the measure of its House language regarding property taxes and substituted content for increased hours for alcohol sales, proposed by Sen. Clark Jenkins (D-Edgecombe). It was the version containing alcohol content that the Senate passed. Nevertheless, Moffitt took great exception to his name being on a bill with such an egregious approach to alcohol marketing. So the House Rules Committee took the measure from the floor and stripped it of its language concerning alcohol inserted by the Senate and reinserted Moffitt’s original language about property taxes. That move, however, by the House Rules Committee on the House floor was rejected. The House was then instructed the only proper motion would be to either concur or not to concur with the Senate’s version of the bill. The House then voted 104-0 not to concur. This sent the legislation to a Conference Committee, where the Christian Action League has been assured that since Moffitt strongly disagrees with his name being on the legislation sent over from the Senate, the alcohol part of the bill is a bust and no longer something its supporters need to be concerned about.
“We were a little unsure about these conclusions last week. So we didn’t report on them until some inquiries could be made,” said Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We didn’t want to report that the alcohol version of SB 796 was dead unless we were certain we could actually say that was true. I can tell you now it’s dead and we dodged a bullet on this one.”
“This legislation had two terrible ideas that would have carelessly increased alcohol consumption and would have also circumvented local option alcohol referenda, placing alcohol on certain properties of the University of North Carolina system,” said Rev. Creech. “It’s bad enough they wanted to increase the hours of sale in our state, but then to put it on college campuses where the abuses of alcohol are so rampant. This is one of the worst alcohol bills I’ve seen in my twelve year tenure as Director of the League.”
Sen. Austin Allran (R-Catawba) tried to mitigate the bill’s negative effects by removing the changes to alcohol sales hours during debate on the Senate floor, but his amendment was defeated.
“Increasing the number of hours of alcohol sales is an irresponsible thing to do. It will result in more underage drinking, more DWI deaths, more court cases, more insurance claims, more domestic violence, more rape … you name it,” he said. “It goes against everything we know about social responsibility.” After the adjournment of the Senate, Allran said he didn’t even know about the section of the bill that made alcoholic beverages more accessible on UNC properties. He added that he thought HB 796 was a terrible bill.
Sen. Don Vaughan (D-Guilford) agreed that extending hours of sale was unwise, and Sen. Tommy Tucker (R-Mecklenburg) said he could not see how changing the hours would benefit anyone but the alcohol industry.
“Think about it, they can leave a bar at 2 a.m. and still be drunk and go to a convenience store at 5 a.m. and keep their buzz going,” Tucker said.
In addition to moving the sales start hour in stores from 7 a.m. to 5 a.m. the bill would have allowed Sunday alcohol sales to begin at 11 a.m. instead of noon. Rev. Creech argued, “There has always been a certain level of respect for churches and the religious community in this state that you don’t start serving alcohol until people get out of church. But this legislation would fly in the face of that respect.
“Numerous studies have been conducted in countries across the world on the impact of the hours of alcohol sales on excessive consumption and the resulting social, economic and criminal problems,” said the Rev. Creech. “Increased hours of sale, particularly by two or more hours per day, have been tied to increases in crime, violence, homicide and vehicle crashes.”
He went on to say that increased hours of alcohol sales are never good for the public’s health, but would be particularly bad now with N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE) sustaining significant staff and equipment cuts and an overall cut of $1,000,000 in the recently passed budget.
“ALE cannot do more with less,” the Rev. Creech said. “The result of this bill would be significant increases in alcohol related incidents without the law enforcement capacity to tackle the problem.”
Creech said Dylan Mulrooney-Jones with the N.C. Substance Abuse Prevention Providers Association helped the Christian Action League swiftly put together information on the ill effects of this alcohol bill and helped spread the word among lawmakers and their constituents.
“His help in this effort is so appreciated,” Creech said. “All of us who are concerned with the public health must work together on issues like this.”
Ironically, H 796 also contains two very positive provisions regarding management of alcohol sales: one, a requirement that ABC permittees have a valid Social Security number or other documentation of legal residency, and two, a provision that would close a loophole by which the state’s special event permits have been being abused.
According to Sen. Andrew Brock (R-Davie), who was responsible for the better content of the bill, people have repeatedly applied for and received one-time permits to sell alcohol, virtually on a weekly basis. They would get the permits for a non-profit organization in a wet area and then take the alcohol to a neighboring dry area to sell it. The new bill would have required application for the permits at least 10 days in advance with ALE to be notified within three days so that applicants could be properly vetted.
“These last two provisions are certainly worthy of consideration and something we hope lawmakers take up next session,” Creech said. “Most importantly, we hope they will not be linked with these harmful proposals.”