By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Distilleries and breweries are one step closer to new privileges when it comes to the sale of their products since lawmakers gave a nod to two bills this week that circumvent both the will of the people and the structure of the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control System.
“It’s something like the death of someone you know and love. Even though you know it is coming, the disappointment and sadness are no less diminished,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League in reference to House Bill 98 – Breweries to Sell Malt Beverages on Premises. Creech said he knew the bill would pass, but he was also disappointed to see the Senate approve Senate Bill 713, which would allow bottles of liquor, handled exclusively by ABC stores for the past 75 years, to be sold at distilleries.
The Senate passed the distilleries bill on Monday evening after hearing Sen. Martin Nesbit’s (D-Bumcombe) explanation.
“In essence what the bill does … is allow distilleries to sell at retail those products produced at the distillery if, in fact, it is in a county where they sell spirituous liquor, in other words, where ABC stores are already in place,” he said, comparing the situation to that of vineyards that sell wine on site. “You know a big part of these distilleries and wineries is the tourism industry. They take people through and they sell a bottle to them, and it’s part of their business plan.”
According to the bill, which has been referred to the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development, pre-arranged tour groups could purchase between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., with walk-in sales from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. The same products would also still be sold in the ABC store.
“We did it out of the back of a car for years up there but that didn’t work out too well…,” Nesbit joked, as he assured fellow lawmakers that the state would not be greatly affected by any loss of revenue, since taxes on the alcohol would still be collected.
However Sen. E.S. (Buck) Newton (R-Nash) pointed out that local ABC Boards funnel a percentage of profits to towns and counties and would not likely appreciate competition from distilleries. He said lawmakers sometimes make mistakes when they get in a “rush to improve business conditions and the economy” without looking at the broader implications. He also opposed the bill on the grounds that it could create a “crack in the door of the integrity of the ABC System.”
Even more egregious in terms of circumvention, is House Bill 98, which passed the Senate on Tuesday, 40 to 9 and is headed back to the House for concurrence.
“CAL’s problem with the bill is that it overrides alcohol referenda for six communities and has the potential to do the same for 11 more,” Rev. Creech said. “Is it right to steal the results of an election just because it was about alcohol?”
Sen. Apodoca (R-Henderson) told the Senate on Tuesday that, according to the bill, anywhere a brewery sells on-premise beer, “it must have alcohol licensed and voted on by the public.” He further said the bill “just applies to a new brewery coming on.”
In fact, the bill would allow on-premise sales at all North Carolina breweries, not just new ones, as long as some form of alcohol is approved in the area where the brewery is located.
“I cannot understand why we continue to favor special business interests at the expense of a community’s concerns for the health and safety of its citizens,” the Rev. Creech said, further explaining that even if a community has voted specifically not to allow on-premise malt beverage sales, as 16 have done in North Carolina, the bill would open the door for a brewery to set up shop in any of these communities and open a brew pub – even if they had said “no” to such sales in their last alcohol election.
“This measure is as much about our respect for the election process in this state as it is about how alcohol is marketed,” he said. “When the Senate approves a bill of this nature 40-9, it demonstrates just how unthinking lawmakers are about the matter.”
The bill would be the 11th exception to North Carolina’s local option ABC laws approved in the past 11 years.