By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
June 5, 2015
RALEIGH – For the first time since the end of prohibition, the North Carolina General Assembly has approved legislation allowing for the sale of spirituous liquor outside the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) stores. Along with several changes to state alcohol laws, HB 909 – Omnibus ABC Legislation, grants authority to distilleries to sell a commemorative bottle of their liquor products to customers that take a tour of their premises.
The bill started as a simple measure to allow for the sale of antique spirituous liquors. Once the bill arrived in the Senate, Sen. Rick Gunn (R-Alamance), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, took the bill and included the language of three additional bills that had also passed the House before the crossover date. Gunn also included the language of five additional pieces of alcohol legislation the House ABC Committee chairman, Rep. Jamie Boles (R-Moore) blocked from hearing.
In all, the omnibus bill originally included nine different provisions, most of which were technical in nature, one that banned powdered alcohol, another that would have allowed liquor tasting events at local ABC stores, the distilleries section, and a section that allows for mini-bars at 18 hole golf courses where the sale of mixed beverages have not been approved.
During consideration of the measure on the Senate side, Gunn removed the much-too-controversial provision allowing liquor tasting events at ABC stores. That resulted in last week’s passage of HB 909 on the Senate side in its newest form with one less provision, making a total of eight, by an overwhelming margin of 40-7.
When HB 909 reached the House on Monday of this week, it was referred to the House ABC Committee for review. However, as an omnibus bill, the legislation could not be amended, but required an up or down vote by the full House.
During the House ABC Committee’s review on Tuesday, Rep. Leo Daughtry (R-Johnston) said, “When we take away our ability to review and look at bills, I find it distressing.” A number of other lawmakers on the committee also expressed that they thought the measure was loaded up with too many provisions and needed to go to a conference committee for more careful deliberation between both the House and Senate.
Still, Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) complained that it was the chairman of the ABC committee’s fault for the omnibus legislation. Without calling the chairman’s name, he alluded that if the chairman had allowed the other bills to be heard, the House wouldn’t be stuck with omnibus legislation.
Public comment included advocates in favor of the legislation such as former gubernatorial candidate, Patrick Ballentine and Scott Maitland, who owns the Top of the Hill distillery in Chapel Hill.
Maitland said the legislation was something distilleries desperately needed. The commemorative bottle that they would sell to those who toured distilleries would help the customer to remember their product when they went to the ABC store. He said it would allow them to hire more workers and grow their business.
Members of the public who spoke against the legislation were Jon Carr, lobbyist for the North Carolina Association of ABC Boards, and Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
Carr told lawmakers that local ABC Boards were unanimously opposed to the bill. Dr. Creech said the bill was “a super omelet with eight eggs and two of them were rotten.” The two rotten eggs he referenced were the distilleries and golf course sections.
Dr. Creech also said the bill “sets a bad precedent, opening the door for retail sales of spirituous liquor, something no North Carolinian at any alcohol referendum has ever approved.” He added, “What we tolerate today becomes the norm tomorrow. If by some means, ever so small, we allow for the sale of spirituous liquor retail, we will be hard pressed to deny that same privilege to someone else in the future.”
Dr. Creech also said the golf course provision was an end-run around the people’s vote in alcohol elections.
Read Dr. Creech’s full speech to the committee by clicking here
Daughtry made a motion for the committee to recommend that the full House not concur, but his motion was defeated. McGrady countered with a motion to recommend the full House do concur, which passed.
On the House floor, Wednesday, the debate was spirited. Rep. Shelly Willingham (D-Edgecombe), and former president of the N.C. Association of ABC Boards, said the distilleries provision in the bill creates a slippery slope. He referred to Dr. Creech’s analogy that the measure may seem relatively innocuous, but it’s like a small chip in your windshield that spreads, he said.
Rep. Gary Pendleton (R-Wake) said that the ABC stores were also against the distilleries section. “For moral reasons and religious reasons, I just don’t want any more liquor outlets,” he contended.
Rep. Paul Stam, argued the golf course section of HB 909 was arguably unconstitutional and urged lawmakers to send to the bill to conference.
However, others with distilleries in their districts such as John Bell (R-Lenoir) and House Majority Leader, Mike Hagar (R-Rutherford) argued that the legislation was about job creation and economic development and urged the House to concur with the Senate’s changes.
Wednesday’s vote on Second Reading resulted in a 72-44 decision by House members, giving the bill a tentative nod. On Third Reading of the measure on Thursday, the bill picked up several votes, resulting in overwhelming support, similar to that of the Senate, in a 79-32 vote.
Dr. Creech said, “We have seen the first shot in North Carolina to take down our ABC system. There will be more, I can guarantee. There are forces behind this kind of legislation who would prefer to see the state privatize liquor sales. Lawmakers and other advocates of privatization show ignorance of the superior merits of our current system, spout off erroneous statistics, and are out of step, I believe, with the will of most North Carolinians.”
HB 909 now heads to the Governor’s desk for his consideration.