By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
May 19, 2021
The Christian Action League has a long and rich heritage of addressing alcohol policy in the Tar Heel state. It’s a signature issue for the organization. Every year the League urges lawmakers to balance their commitment to the industry with an earnest desire to protect public health and safety. Unfortunately, more often than not, industry initiatives win the day.
“We are on the front line,” said Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the League. “It’s a tough job. Many of the wise restraints, once honored, are no longer observed. Furthermore, most lawmakers have little to no understanding of our current system of alcohol control. They’ve heard all sorts of myths about it. They are wrongly convinced it desperately needs modernization reforms, when the people who put the plan together many decades ago actually knew what they were doing. Many of these changes, if they pass, are going to be devastating to public health over time.”
This year several efforts to loosen controls are advancing. Rev. Creech testified to various committees on these proposals.
HB 890 – ABC Omnibus Legislation would make several changes to North Carolina’s laws concerning ABC stores, distilleries, and other alcohol-related statutes. The measure is enormous and has 13 different provisions. Here’s just a snapshot:
- It would allow for online orders from ABC stores. Although the person who orders online must pick it up at the ABC store.
- It would establish the North Carolina Spirituous Liquor Council to promote and grow the spirituous liquor industry in North Carolina.
- It would allow distilleries to be open on Sundays from 12:00 noon until 9:00 pm, and from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm on each of the following holidays that do not fall on a Sunday: New Year’s Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving Day.
- Distilleries would no longer have to require someone to take a tour of their facilities before selling them a bottle of their liquor.
- It would allow the holder of a spirituous special event permit to sell mixed beverages containing its spirituous liquor and sell its liquor in closed containers at the event, in addition to giving free tastings. Sales of liquor would be limited to mini-bottles.
- It would double the size of a growler, allowing craft breweries to increase their product sales in these containers from two liters to four liters, about one gallon.
- It would repeal the ban on delivering two alcoholic beverages at a time to a patron at a stadium, athletic facility, or arena on the campus or property of a public college or university or during a sports event sponsored by a public college or university.
Rev. Creech said the sponsors of HB 890 invited stakeholders to weigh in with concerns they had at a meeting, and some changes were made to temper some of the more egregious provisions of the bill. Nevertheless, he added he firmly believed this was no way to do alcohol policy.
During the bill’s hearing before the House ABC Committee, Creech said:
“The Christian Action League wishes to be on record in saying that this proposed measure is absolutely too aggressive at a time when we are just beginning to see the negative public health impacts from our state’s time with COVID. We know that drinking has been at a dangerously all-time high because of the way people choose drinking to cope. I would suggest that this measure not be considered – it should be held over until the next biennium. To use an old expression with which most members of this body are informed, it’s like drinking from a firehose. Alcohol policy is some of the most complicated legislation with which this body will ever deal. Despite comments to the contrary, there is absolutely no way the members of this committee can effectively vet this legislation in its current form and discern what it means for public health.”
HB 890 passed the House by a wide margin, 100-10, nine brave Republicans, and one Democrat voted against it. The measure is now in the Senate Rules Committee.
Other alcohol proposals such as HB 693 – Common Carrier ABC Permit would allow for the sale of alcoholic beverages on common carriers such as busses.
Taking from Rev. Creech’s remarks before the House ABC Committee, the press dubbed the initiative as “bars on wheels.” This bill passed the House ABC Committee, was sent to Rules, withdrawn from Rules, and sent to Finance.
Last, SB 453 – Modernize ABC Controls, would have made several changes to ABC Law, but one of which stood out to the Christian Action League was a provision that would create a new subsection to allow mixed beverage and mixed beverage catering permits to be issued, without the approval of an alcohol election.
Creech said the bill was a circumvention of local alcohol referenda. He told the Senate Rules Committee where the measure was heard:
“If lawmakers can simply come to Raleigh and write legislation to place mixed drinks wherever they or certain influences decide they ought to be, then local option alcohol referenda will come to mean nothing. It means the people are robbed of their right to weigh in on the question, or their expressed will via the ballot box is overturned. We talk about election integrity, but provisions of this nature undermine our words.”
SB 453 passed the Senate Rules Committee, and it was sent to the Senate floor. However, it was withdrawn from consideration on the last day of “crossover” and sent back to the Rules Committee.
“These tremendous questions of alcohol policy are not about whether to drink or not,” said Rev. Creech. “That question was settled years ago by the repeal of Prohibition. What’s at stake these days is whether we understand the inherent nature of a dangerous commodity like alcohol, whether we can continue to minimize alcohol-related harms while significantly loosening controls. The answer to that question is a no-brainer. No, we can’t.”