By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
June 5, 2020
The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would hold the ABC Commission more accountable for how it serves up penalties for alcohol law violations. However, the committee watered down the measure significantly by removing a provision that would have required the Commission to study the feasibility of basing fines on sales or volume of alcohol sold.
“I don’t see the wisdom of striking Section 2 from the bill,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. “It seems to me that to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48). If one sells a lot of alcohol or sells more potent alcohol, then a study should be done to assess what would be a proper fee for any violations. It only seems right that the fine fit the crime.”
He said a small fine for a certain violation might be appropriate for a neighborhood bar but would be little more than a slap on the wrist for a large group or corporate industry and therefore no real deterrence to the crime.
“Besides, House Bill 1082 simply called for such fees to be studied, not imposed,” he said.
Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) expressed similar support for the study. “There’s not much in this state that couldn’t stand a little review and study,” he told the committee. Nonetheless the bill was amended before being sent to the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House.
Even so, Creech is supportive of the proposal in that its first provision should lead to more transparency and equity in how ABC rules are enforced.
Rep. Pat Hurley (R-Randolph) introduced the bill, which was initiated by the Program Evaluation Division Committee, as an attempt to give guidance to the ABC Commission as it issues fines and suspends or revokes alcohol permits in the wake of violations. She said rules were not being applied comprehensively.
“Sometimes they waive the punishment (no fine) or suspend their license for three days when it is off season and they are already closed…” Hurley told the Rev. Creech. “I understand they have let the permittees choose their days sometimes. We need to know why they were not charged a fine or why they did not suspend their license, or why whatever they do. They have a responsibility.”
The bill would require the ABC Commission to develop a written policy regarding actions it may take against permittees for ABC law violations. And, according to the bill, that policy would have to detail guidelines followed by the Commission in determining which action to take for a first or repeat violation, when it is appropriate to deviate from the guidelines, the justification for differences in the severity of actions taken for similar violations, and the justification for dismissing an alleged violation case.
It would further mandate that the Commission post the policy on its website and annually post specified information regarding alleged ABC law violations.