By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
May 6, 2021
The House Alcoholic Beverage Control Committee gave a thumbs-up to House Bill 693 – Common Carriers ABC Permit this week, paving the way for some buses to become “bars on wheels.” But the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, warned lawmakers they are circumventing the local-option system if they pass the measure.
“When the people of North Carolina voted to have an ABC store, wine, beer, and mixed drinks sales, I think we can safely say they never foresaw the prospect of alcoholic beverages being served on buses. They believed those sales would take place at brick-and-mortar edifices – places like hotels and restaurants – and not a bar on wheels,” he said.
“Our local-option alcohol referendum system historically has given citizens the opportunity to become educated about various forms of alcohol sales, and then allows them to decide by the ballot box which form of sales will or will not be allowed. This proposal is obviously something the public knows little or nothing about, and therefore voting for this alcohol initiative would be something of an imposition of this body’s will on them.”
Rep. Tim Moffitt (R-Henderson), who sponsored the bill, compared the idea to first-class airline travel and said the business model is already in use in Virginia.
Creech conceded that alcohol sales are already allowed on planes and trains, but said buses are not the same because they are much more plentiful and easily obtained.
“There are a limited number of planes and trains. With buses the potential is considerably less limited. This could result in fleets of them – each possessing a bar for its two dozen passengers or more on our highways,” he said, arguing that such a density of outlets would likely negatively affect public health and safety.
He also argued that the bill, even though it does not allow for so-called “party buses” that start and end their journeys at the same spot nor for interstate bus lines, would create a slippery slope.
“Please understand this kind of thing is always progressive. Once enacted into law, it never stands still. Later, others also want a piece of the pie. Then others want the law amended, loosened to include them and their party bus, and God-forbid even ultimately Greyhound and Trailways want a piece of the action. We just can’t know the who or what, but we can be absolutely certain this kind of thing will be progressive,” Creech said.
Nonetheless, lawmakers voted to advance the measure, which would create permits for charter buses to serve beer, wine and mixed drinks to passengers on trips of at least 75 miles.
HB 693 has been referred to the Committee on Finance. If approved there, it will go to the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House.
In other alcohol related news, the House on Thursday approved HB 781, titled “Bring Business Back to Downtown.” The legislation would allow municipalities to create “social districts” where people could consume alcohol and carry open containers. Cities and towns would be able to limit the days and times the districts are in effect such that they could make the drinking legal only during special events or certain days of the week.
Andy Ellen with the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association told the ABC Committee the bill could help restaurants whose patrons may not want to stay inside for the entire time they are there. They would be able to take their drink – in a special cup labeled with the name of the business – with them and walk down the street or visit other businesses where alcohol is not sold. He said it would also level the playing field during times when outside vendors have been able to sell alcohol to passersby but brick-and-mortar restaurants have not.
Even so, Ellen admitted the bill’s provisions are not appropriate for every town.
“A bill of this nature is very difficult to stop because it gives a municipality an opportunity to opt-in,” said the Rev. Creech. “They don’t have to do it.”
HB 781 will head to the Senate.