By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Lawmakers who spent countless hours over the past six months developing a bill to help modernize the state Alcohol Beverage Control System may have felt like raising a toast Thursday when the House concurred with the Senate-approved version of the bill — 16 pages that address everything from ABC store manager salaries and budgeting procedures to nepotism, contracts for alcohol law enforcement and more.
“I’ve been doing a lot of work on alcohol legislation over the years, and Rep. Warren (Ray Warren, D-Alexander) did the best job I’ve ever seen,” Pryor Gibson (D-Anson) told fellow House members Thursday as he urged the bill’s passage.
Warren, who co-chaired the Legislative Joint Study Committee on ABC along with Sen. Don Vaughan (D-Guilford), had earlier called the bill the result of a “long journey” that began with input from dozens of stakeholders. The Committee was one of three organizations scrutinizing the way the state handles alcohol, a hot issue in the wake of media reports about exorbitant salaries and local boards’ being wined and dined by liquor companies. A 2008 study by the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division had already deemed the 75-year-old system “outdated and in need of modernization” and a push for privatization seemed to be gaining momentum.
“We are very grateful that our lawmakers saw the wisdom of not throwing out the baby with the bath water and instead worked to address the concerns and strengthen the state’s system of alcohol control,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “The bill puts stronger ethics rules in place, lends greater transparency to how local boards spend their money and holds them accountable to performance standards set by the state commission. This is historic ABC reform legislation that the Christian Action League was an active participant in helping formulate.”
The ABC Modernization Law also raises the voter threshold from 500 to 1,000 for towns to seek an ABC store and allows them to vote on mixed beverages without opening their own store.
“It’s hard to know exactly what the magic threshold number should be for voting on an ABC store, but going to 1,000 is a step in the right direction,” Creech said. “What this will do is prevent places that don’t have enough folks to support an ABC store from opening one that would fail and instead bleed the system or simply draw customers from an already successful store.”
“Control must be the overall goal of ABC, but we know if stores are failing the call for privatization will gain momentum,” Creech added. “So keeping the ABC system solvent and efficient is important to helping the state minimize alcohol abuse.”
In addition to allowing the state ABC Commission to set performance standards and mandatory training requirements, the new law outlines procedures for removal of local board members and employees and remedies for financially failing boards.
While Thursday’s concurrence vote was unanimous, the bill was not without controversy as it traveled through at least four committees and was rewritten nearly half a dozen times before reaching the House and Senate floors. Most recent snags included a debate over contractual agreements between wineries and wholesalers and a local provision dealing with the Rowan/Kannapolis ABC board.