By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
June 29, 2019
Thursday, the House Finance Committee took up a Proposed Committee Substitute (PCS) for HB 536 – ABC Omnibus Regulatory Reform.
The measure originally was a gargantuan piece of alcohol legislation with broad-sweeping reforms that would unravel North Carolina’s alcohol policies. The bill was sixteen pages in length with twenty-five provisions, and twelve of them would have severely impacted public health and safety in negative ways.
Championed by Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), McGrady told the committee the bill had been pared-down to those provisions that were more “likely to be noncontroversial or have broad bipartisan support.”
McGrady noted six provisions that had been removed or modified in the bill:
1. The section that would have allowed for the sale of beer and wine on the passenger-only ferry traveling from Hatteras to Ocracoke.
2. The provision that would have allowed for a new statutory category of “Bars” for alcohol permittees.
3. The stipulation which would have allowed distilleries to sell, deliver, and ship their products out of state directly to establishments and residences.
4. The specification which would have allowed the sale of up to 4 alcoholic beverages at one sitting to a patron, except 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, was not entirely removed but modified from 4 drinks to 2.
5. The section which would have allowed ABC stores to open on Sundays from 12:00 – 5:00, if authorized by the county or city where the local board is located.
6. The provision that would allow for beer and wine sales stadium-wide at collegiate sporting events. (This provision, however, became state law in a stand-alone bill signed by Governor Roy Cooper on Wednesday, June 26th.)
Each of these provisions had been a matter of grave concern to the Christian Action League, and each had been elaborated on in an analysis of HB 536 which the League had provided to House members.
To read the Christian Action League’s analysis of the original bill, go here
After the committee had discussed various technical aspects of HB 536, members of the public were allowed to weigh in with their comments.
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League told committee members he was earnestly thankful to the bill’s sponsors for the many provisions they had removed.
“The legislation has been significantly improved, and the sensitivities demonstrated in the PCS have not gone unnoticed,” he said. “Nevertheless, challenges that would make this Omnibus legislation friendly to public health and safety remain.”
Creech named the following sections in HB 536 as still being problematic. He said:
“Section 6 requires the ABC Commission to modify the rule on deeper discounts for beer and wine by membership card or coupon from 25% to 35%. The ABC Commission rejected this request via petition by the Retail Merchants Association in 2006. At that time, some of the most prominent names in alcohol research, both national and local, including Henry Wechsler from the Harvard School of Public Health, as well as first lady Mary Easley who weighed and urged the commission not to approve this initiative because numerous studies prove that teaming appealing advertising with offers of discount sales, makes dangerous consumption levels rise, as well as exacerbate problems of underage drinking and college binge drinking.
“Section 15 authorizes a common area entertainment permit for common areas to drink alcohol at multi-tenant establishments. This provision eliminates the number of places that people who choose not to drink or wish to shield their children from its use or abuse can go for a family outing, without have to be confronted with alcohol use and abuse. Thirty percent of Americans choose not to drink, and they deserve respect for their choices too.
“Section16 proposes to provide better regulatory oversight of the delivery of malt beverages and wine directly to people’s homes. Let the record note that we are only fooling ourselves if we think that we can effectively police home and private deliveries of alcohol. We should not be doing this. And another reason we shouldn’t be doing it is that alcohol direct shipment sales are well-known for facilitating negative opportunities for abuse. It’s been linked to contributing to higher suicide rates in countries such as Australia. So there is a connection between this kind of delivery practice and self-harm.
“Section 17 allows breweries to sell their products for on or off premises consumption regardless of the results of an alcohol election. This provision circumvents, and in certain cases may even overturn, the results of an alcohol referendum. To favor breweries over the rights of the people to determine the destiny of their own communities with regard to alcohol sales is an insult and an affront to the sacredness of their vote, which should always be scrupulously honored.”
“The Christian Action believes that unless these provisions are removed from the bill, this legislation remains seriously flawed and unworthy of your support,” Creech concluded.
Later Creech told this reporter he had a couple of other objections too. He had stated both of them in the analysis of the original bill. Nevertheless, he thought it was better to drop the previous opposition he had stated to the merger of any ABC Boards and liquor tastings at ABC stores.
“Neither of those two provisions which were in the original bill and remained in the PCS, modified to some degree, directly affected public health and safety. CAL’s opposition was based in its concerns for preserving the state’s ABC system,” said Creech. “But the ABC Boards have changed their position from opposition to mergers to one of neutrality, and on liquor tastings, they switched their position from neutral to supporting it. I think they are making a grievous error on both and I told their lobbyist. Here’s the thing, if they aren’t willing to defend their own interests, it compromises CAL’s ability to do so effectively. This bill is so large and deleterious in its effects; I believe we are better off to put our energy where public health is directly threatened.”
At the end of deliberations on the bill, Rep. Mark Brody (R-Anson) expressed a dire warning concerning HB 536 and the numerous other alcohol-related bills taken-up this legislative session.
Brody said he was not a native North Carolinian but a transplant from the state of Wisconsin. Brody said a recent survey showed that his former state had now become the most alcohol consuming state in the nation. Six of the most alcohol consuming cities in America are in Wisconsin, and Brody said that he had lived in five of them.
“The point being, I’m seeing us [North Carolina] advance towards that position that I actually left,” said Brody. He added that when he moved to North Carolina, he was very pleased to see that the Tar Heel state was not that way, “with a liquor store and a tavern on every corner.”
“I just see this progression, and I am trying to slow it down or stop it. Most of you have not experienced that. So you don’t know where you are going. And maybe when you finally get there you will realize that you should have stopped at this point,” said Brody
The bill passed in committee by a narrow margin of 12-9.
It now resides in the House Rules Committee and will be heard by Rules when lawmakers return from their July 4th holiday.
Editor’s Note: Other very important alcohol bills considered by committees and passed this week were SB 290 – Distiller Regulatory Reform Bill [House ABC Committee] and SB 344 – Allow Common Area Entertainment ABC Permit [Senate Commerce and Finance Committees].
The Christian Action League will report on these in next week’s edition of the CAL Insider.