By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
June 29, 2023
Sunday ABC sales, curbside cocktails, happy hours, discount liquor, and a host of other alcohol-pushing provisions are on the table at the N.C. Legislature. The House Committee on Alcohol Beverage Control took up a 36-page omnibus bill on Tuesday.
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said there are at least 11 provisions among 31 in the proposed committee substitute for Bill 527 that are extremely concerning. “We hope this committee will be wise and not simply rubber-stamp what is an industry-driven bill with little input from public health and safety,” the Rev. Creech said during the public comment period at Tuesday’s hearing. He was the only one of five commenters to address safety concerns.
The committee did not vote on the bill, and public comment was limited to one minute per speaker. Even so, Creech provided a nine-page summary of the bill addressing its most egregious provisions and reminded committee members of “alcohol’s uniqueness among commodities to wreak havoc.”
“Its abuse seems to touch us on nearly every human level of life,” he said. “Who doesn’t have a family member negatively impacted by alcohol? Probably no one in this room.”
Creech’s summary pointed out the advantages that the state has enjoyed by keeping ABC stores closed on Sundays. He said not having liquor sales seven days a week has helped to reduce excessive consumption and that studies have shown that areas where blue laws are enforced have lower rates of alcohol-related problems. While the bill would leave it up to ABC boards to request permission from local government bodies to open stores as early as 10 a.m. on Sundays, he said once Sunday sales are permitted in one location, other stores will be forced to follow suit to stay afloat.
“ABC stores were never meant to compete with each other. Control is their objective and not profits,” he wrote.
That objective will be further undermined if the bill passes, since it raises the cap on point-of-sale advertising materials, product displays, and coolers, opening the door to more visible and pervasive alcohol ads. It would also allow ABC stores to sell consumer specialty items.
Further, the measure would permit take-out and delivery sales of mixed beverages, a practice that was temporarily allowed during the lockdown periods of the Covid pandemic, and would make it legal to sell two mixed drinks per person at spirituous liquor events often held in conjunction with conventions, festivals, farmer’s markets and other family-oriented activities.
Creech said doubling the number of allowed mixed beverages at these events will increase the risk of their becoming stained with unwelcome alcohol-related behaviors and consequences. He also questioned the provision that establishes a new mobile bar services permit since “mobile bar” was not clearly defined in the bill verbiage, and pointed out that the section establishing distillery estate districts is an end-run around the state’s three-tier system of alcohol distribution. He admitted the three-tier system can be cumbersome but asserted that the protections it provides are necessary.
“Bypassing this system could expose consumers to low-quality liquor, leading to public health concerns such as poisoning, illness, and death,” he wrote in his analysis.
Among the most worrisome parts of the bill is the section that establishes pricing flexibility permits, paving the way for the resurgence of “happy hour,” which the state banned in the 1980s.
“The verdict on happy hour has been in for a long time,” Creech wrote, adding that cheap drinks lead to dangerous levels of intoxication, impaired judgment and increased risks of drunk driving. By normalizing heavy drinking, they increase the risk of alcoholism, already a severe health issue that affects millions of people worldwide.
Other concerning parts of the bill, which originated in the Senate but is being taken up by the House, would lower the population threshold for an alcohol referendum to as low as 200, expand the sale of mixed beverages at performing arts venues, and allow the Catawba Indian tribe to have their own ABC system.
The bill has a way to go before coming to the floor of the House or Senate, but lawmakers expect it to move quickly, especially since General Assembly leaders hope to wrap up the legislative session next month.