By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Rep. Edgar Starnes (R-Caldwell) may be the only member of the N.C. General Assembly to have his name turned into a verb this legislative session, a grammatical twist that served an important purpose relating to alcohol policy, according to the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
“What Rep. Starnes helped to do is to remove what would have been a back-door provision to expand alcohol sales,” Dr. Creech explained. “He is one of a number of lawmakers who stood strong to defend the state’s local option system. For this kind of help the Christian Action League is deeply grateful.”
The verb “edgarize” became part of the legislative lexicon when Rep. Leo Daughtry (R-Johnston) stood up on the House floor Tuesday, the final day of the session, to recommend that the House concur with a conference committee report for House Bill 585.The measure had initially dealt with vehicle emissions inspections, but the alcohol law change (4th edition) had been piggybacked onto it.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this bill came to you and had some alcohol issues involved in it and some other things and the bill was what we call ‘Edgarized,'” he quipped. “The only thing left now is a provision regarding emissions.”
After a brief debate over emissions standards for vehicles manufactured within the past three years and having fewer than 70,000 miles, the House voted 66 to 43 to pass the bill, which would exempt such automobiles from emissions checks.
But according to Dr. Creech, what is most interesting is what was not in the final bill — a provision that would have expanded the definition of “Historic ABC Establishment” to allow liquor by the drink sales at Chimney Rock’s Esmeralda Inn without a vote of the people.
The effort to circumvent state alcohol statutes began when the expanded definition was tacked on to Senate Bill 951, which started out as a proposal to transfer the Cleveland County Correctional Facility to Cleveland Community College. Late last month, the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House gave a nod to a new version of that bill sponsored by Sen. Wes Westmoreland (R-Cleveland) that included the broadened definition of Historic ABC Establishment. To accommodate mixed drink sales at Esmeralda Inn, the new definition included any facility that is “a contributing structure in a National Register Historic District; or is under protective covenants or a history preservation agreement administered by the Historic Preservation Foundation of North Carolina: and is near a state or national scenic highway in a county where at least two cities offer on-premise sale of beer or wine. The bill wound up on the House calendar June 25, where Starnes aggressively contended the alcohol provision was arguably “unconstitutional.”
“Right behind him came Rep. Jamie Boles (R-Moore), chairman of the Commerce and Job Development Subcommittee on Alcohol Beverage Control, who spoke out strongly against it and said that this is not the way alcohol policy is supposed to be done in this state,” said Dr. Creech. He said he was pleasantly surprised when the House voted down the bill and didn’t take it back up for passage until the alcohol portion was removed.
However, the exact same provision then popped up as part of H 585, the bill dealing with vehicle emissions inspections which had already won House approval. Passed by the Senate, the bill came to the House for concurrence.
Dr. Creech contacted Starnes, Boles, House Majority Leader Paul Stam (R-Wake), original bill sponsor Rep. G.L. Pridgen (R-Hoke), Rep. Kelly Hastings (R-Cleveland), and Rep. Bert Jones (R-Rockingham), all of whom vowed to help kill or waylay the legislation until the alcohol provision could be removed.
The House voted 118 to 1 not to concur with the Senate version, after which Daughtry, Boles, Starnes, Rep. Shirley Randleman (R-Wilkes) and Rep. Timothy Spear (D-Dare) were appointed to a conference committee along with Sen. Stan Bingham (R-Davidson), Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow) and Sen. Andrew Brock (R-Davie). It was in this committee that the “edgarization” took place.
“The conference committee did the right thing and stripped out any mention of alcohol,” said Dr. Creech. “All kidding aside, this was very significant in light of the fact that at least 10 times in the past the General Assembly has voted to put into law special provisions that allow alcohol sales in certain locations whether or not the surrounding communities have voted for them. Each time this happens it weakens our alcohol control system.”
He said the fact that during this session the House twice rejected bills with tacked-on alcohol exceptions was extremely encouraging.
“The hope that it gives me is that all these years when we’ve been telling lawmakers that sliding provisions like this into bills truly circumvents local option alcohol referenda and in many cases overrides the will of the people, is starting to take hold,” Dr. Creech said. “Perhaps this signals that they finally are listening and starting to defend the state’s local option system for alcohol marketing. That would indeed be a most welcome change from previous years.”
To understand the history of this bill requires a look back at Senate Bill 951. Third edition contains alcohol provision, which resulted in the failure of the SB 951. The bill was later brought back with the alcohol provision amended out of the measure.