By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
July 2, 2019
Could you imagine people walking around with an alcoholic beverage in a place like the Mall? That’s what one bill would allow if the measure finishes moving through the Senate.
Senate Bill 344 – Allow Common Area Entertainment ABC Permit, would authorize the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission to issue a permit allowing customers who purchase drinks from an ABC permitted establishment to exit the premises with an open container and consume the alcohol in a marked section of the Mall.
Championed by Sen. Mike Woodard (D-Durham), Woodard says that the Streets of Southpoint Mall in his district requested the bill. He argues that establishments like restaurants in the mall want the ability to make money from some of the special events that are already occurring. Beer is served from mobile beer taps at these events, but the restaurants at the Mall aren’t allowed to sell their alcoholic beverages outside their premises.
During hearing of the measure in the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee Thursday of last week, the bill precipitated a good deal of angst from committee members.
Some members wanted to know the scope of the measure’s impact. Would it be local or state-wide? Sen. Paul Lowe (D- Forsyth) said, “If it’s going to stay in Durham, I’m good.” But Lowe said he didn’t want to see it happening in Malls in his district.
The bill, however, does have a state-wide impact.
Other members of the committee were concerned whether the permit would only be for special events. The permit granted would not only be for special events, but could be a permanent fixture for establishments.
Sen. Ted Alexander (R-Cleveland) raised his concerns about the numerous alcohol measures filed this year, saying, “It just seems like we’re continuing to push the envelope with a lot of the alcohol bills here. It just seems like there are fewer and fewer places where families can go that there is just alcohol-free.”
Alexander’s sentiments were reflected in the testimony given by the Christian Action League’s executive director, Rev. Mark Creech.
Creech told the committee, as well as pen a letter to all Senate members with the same content that said:
“North Carolina is a state where respect for others is a core virtue. In a spirit of respect, the state has reasonably sought to shield from public-view the drinking of alcoholic beverages, except in those places where people know to expect it. It should come as no surprise that many people in the state do not approve of drinking, nor do they want themselves or their children exposed to it any more than cultural norms necessitate. There are places that families typically frequent where they do not expect to find the drinking of beer, wine, and liquor in the public view. Granting permits for alcohol sales at multi-tenant establishments would eliminate one more place that families, especially scrupulous parents with their children, may feel comfortable going together.
“Alcohol advertising is almost everywhere today – on billboards, television, radio, and signage. There is hardly a place anyone can go that people aren’t confronted with alcohol sales in some way. Nevertheless, there should still be some locations where families can go that they may be relatively assured they will not have to see or be confronted with alcohol use or abuse.
“I wish to remind this body that approximately 30% of Americans choose not to drink at all. Yet it seems that the balance of privilege is largely tipped nowadays in favor of those who do drink. Their privileges continue to be extended, while those who choose to abstain are faced with having to share the steep social costs of those who drink, as well as suffer increasing infringements to their own sensibilities.
“A few years ago, we banned smoking in restaurants and other venues because of its second-hand effects. My fingerprints were on that legislation, and I consider it to be one of the finest initiatives I was ever privileged to urge the General Assembly to pass. But alcohol has its own second-hand effects, one of which, I suggest, is represented in this initiative. We are getting to the place where there is nowhere that we can go anymore where there isn’t alcohol. Please don’t give everything to those who drink, leave nondrinkers some space – leave them a public reprieve from alcohol.”
A voice vote was taken in Senate Commerce that passed. However, Rev. Creech said, “The vote was quite divided, and unless my ears were fooling me, the Noes were rather more than the Ayes, but the Chair gave it to the Ayes and moved it forward.”
SB 344 passed Senate Finance in less than five minutes on Friday of last week. It also passed the Senate Rules Committee on Monday, where Rev. Creech spoke for a second time against the bill. But when the bill reached the Senate floor on Tuesday afternoon, a recess was called for Republicans to caucus. When lawmakers reconvened, the measure was withdrawn from the calendar and sent back to the Senate Rules Committee.
“At this point, I don’t know why the bill was withdrawn,” said Rev. Creech. “Maybe it just took a while for the import of what they were about to do to sink in, and finally better judgment prevailed. I pray that’s what it was, but I’ve not been able to confirm anything at this point. I earnestly pray that they will just let it die in Rules. That’s what they ought to do.”