By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Breweries may get a free pass to serve up their products on premises even in areas of the state where voters haven’t approved such sales, thanks to House Bill 98, approved 67 to 48 on second reading in the House on Thursday.
But opponents of the measure, who called for objection to keep the bill on the calendar, made it clear that those pushing the legislation were circumventing the state’s alcohol laws and creating the 11th exception in just 11 years to the local option system.
“In the wisdom of this General Assembly we established a process whereby each and every community can authorize the sale of alcoholic beverages through a referendum. It’s a very simple process,” Rep. Edgar Starnes (R-Caldwell) told fellow lawmakers. “If the people in a community are ready and willing for alcoholic beverages to be sold, then they vote on it, and the will of the people is done.”
“The laws are designed so that you can have a referendum on alcohol in a very timely manner,” Starnes added. “I don’t think we ought to start deviating from it now … just because they think it is a nuisance, they don’t want to take the time, the trouble, the effort, or spend the money to put it to a vote.”
He said allowing exceptions sets a bad precedent and that the bill could lead to unfair restraint of trade in areas where on-premise beer sales are not allowed at restaurants but would be perfectly legal at a brewery next door.
Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) sponsored the bill specifically for Southern Appalachian Brewery in Hendersonville and said it was supported by the Hendersonville City Council. He emphasized repeatedly that while the measure would open the door to on-premise sales at a half dozen or so other breweries in areas where voters have not given approval, it would not allow the businesses to bring beer sales to so-called “dry” areas where no alcohol sales are legal. Earlier, in committee, he had said that should Hendersonville hold an alcohol referendum, he would bet his house that voters there would welcome on-premise malt beverage sales.
But Rep. Pat Hurley (R-Randolph) reminded the House that “there are 11 municipalities that have already voted to not have on-premise beer sales and it would subject them to having a new brewery locating in their areas and overriding their decision.”
“I really do feel this is circumventing our state law,” Hurley said. “And I’m going to vote against it.”
Rep. Rayne Brown (R-Davidson) represents Lexington, where voters have approved only off-premise beer sales and where a planned brewery would be allowed to ignore their wishes.
“Please vote no,” Brown said. “We would like to settle matters such as these on a local level.”
The Christian Action League opposed the bill because of its subversion of the local option and was disappointed in the outcome, but the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director, found encouragement in several aspects of the debate.
“The lawmakers who defended the people’s right to vote on alcohol sales in their communities did so eloquently, addressing every aspect of the argument,” he said. “And as a result, even though the bill advanced, the vote was closer than it has been in quite a while on an alcohol-related issue of this nature.”
He said he was also appreciative of changes made in the bill in committee to make it less egregious than it could have been.
If it passes third reading, it will head to the Senate.
Take Christian Action: To see how your lawmaker voted on this measure click here. If your Representative voted in favor of this legislation, please contact him/her and ask that he/she vote against HB 98 – Breweries to Sell Malt Beverages on Premises – when it is taken up on Third Reading, Monday, May 2nd.
Need to know who represents you in the NC House? click here The last two listings at the bottom of the page will tell you who both your lawmakers are in the State House and Senate. You will want to contact your lawmaker in the NC House. For his/her contact information, simply click on the profile.