By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — All of the state’s 75 or more breweries — even the half dozen or more in areas where voters have not approved on-premise beer sales — will be able to serve up their suds at the brewery if House Bill 98 becomes law. Despite the efforts of the Christian Action League, the measure won a favorable recommendation from the House Commerce and Alcohol Beverage Committee Wednesday.
“Admittedly the bill sponsor took steps to improve this legislation, but even so, like so many alcohol laws already on the books, it circumvents and thereby weakens local option,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, the CAL’s executive director. “We cannot support a bill that ignores the will of the people and forces on communities a type of alcohol sales they have not authorized at the ballot box. The bill allows on-premise sales only in places where some form of alcohol sales have already been approved by referenda. But just because a community has approved one form of alcohol sales, state government doesn’t have the right to extrapolate from this that another form ought to be legal without that community’s approval.”
Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) sponsored the bill to help Southern Appalachian Brewery in Hendersonville. The business moved from the Transylvania County town of Rosman, where on-premise sales of malt beverages are allowed, to Hendersonville, where they are not.
McGrady told the committee that the municipality supports the bill and that both brewery owners and city officials would rather have the business selling on-premise beer via the proposed law than trying to qualify for a mixed beverage permit, which is currently legal in the city. Nor did they wish to push for an alcohol referendum to make malt beverage sales legal, which are not and couldn’t be scheduled until November. McGrady also said he was so confident a referendum for malt beverage sales would pass if it came before the voters that he would bet his house on it.
McCrady also assured fellow legislators that the bill, as modified in the proposed committee substitute, would not allow a brewery to set up shop and start serving beer in a dry county, as its provisions apply only to areas where alcohol is already being sold in one form or another.
However, the Rev. Creech pointed out that the bill would not apply just to the Hendersonville business, but would open the door to on-premise beer sales at about a half dozen other breweries in areas where voters have not given approval. Further, 11 municipalities that have chosen to steer clear of on-premise beer sales would be subject to a new brewery locating in their area and overriding that decision.
“Here is a brewery that because of a poor business plan, unfamiliar with the current statutes, locates in an area without on-premise sales and is now asking to have state law adjusted to accommodate them,” said the Rev. Creech, explaining the lack of fairness in laws that circumvent referenda.
He admitted that the bill does have some positive aspects in that allowing breweries to sell beer at their locations might prevent them from pushing for an alcohol referendum that could result in full-scale on-premise sales at many more outlets. Also, House Bill 98 would tighten a rule in existing alcohol law that now allows breweries to market malt beverages at up to three additional locations regardless of whether beer sales are approved in those areas. The new bill would require that the additional stores be located only in areas where sales are legal.
“Even so, we cannot support legislation that overrides the local option,” the Rev. Creech said. He told lawmakers that while they have the authority to decide this issue, when they take on situations like this, “the statutory right that communities have to decide these matters for themselves is stripped from them — the voice of the people is nullified or silenced.”
“That just isn’t fair and that’s why we believe you should say no to this bill and kick this question back to the locals,” he added.