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Banner Week for Alcohol Interests, ‘Brunch Bill’ Moves Forward with Little Resistance from Lawmakers

By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
June 23, 2017

RALEIGH – This was a banner week for alcohol interests in the North Carolina General Assembly.

On Thursday, the House Alcoholic Beverage Control Committee passed a Proposed Committee Substitute (PCS), which rolled into one bill what was SB 155-Economic and Job Growth for Distilleries and HB 500-ABC Omnibus Legislation.

Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, had earlier said both bills were the worst that he had seen in his 18-year tenure lobbying on alcohol issues in the North Carolina General Assembly.

The PCS sought to modify and remove certain provisions in SB 155, which had already passed in the Senate. HB 500 had passed the House but was still under consideration on the Senate side.

Among multiple provisions, SB 155 in its original form would have allowed only bars and restaurants to begin selling booze at 10:00 a.m. rather than having to wait until after the noon hour on Sundays. But it was amended by the Senate to include every alcohol retail outlet. The PCS would have put the measure back in its original form, but the committee rejected the proposal, keeping the roll-back time at 10:00 a.m. for every retail outlet that sells alcohol and expanded the same option for the Cherokee reservation.

In its lobbying against the measure, The Christian Action League pointed out the following problems with the legislation:

  1. It Allows Direct Shipment of Distillery Products to Out of State Residents

This provision has the potential for exacerbating underage drinking for other states. The June 2015 Report to Congress on the Prevention of Underage Drinking cited interstate shipments to individuals, which are mostly done online, as a significant source of alcohol for underage drinkers. A study in North Carolina, Williams & Ribisl, 2012, concluded the same. Direct shipping bypasses North Carolina’s three-tier system and is nearly impossible to regulate with respect to underage access and quality control.

  1. It Increases the Number of Distillery Products Sold at a Distillery

The legislation undermines the state’s ABC system of selling spirits exclusively in ABC stores by allowing distilleries to sell more of their products from the distillery. The crack in the windshield of ABC, which Dr. Creech warned about in 2015 when distilleries were authorized to sell one commemorative bottle at the distillery, is now growing as he predicted. Up until 2015, no liquor was allowed to be sold outside of an ABC store. This legislation now allows for the sale of five bottles at the distillery. When will it end?

  1. It Provides for Liquor Tastings at shopping malls, festivals, balloon races, etc.

Bill sponsors argue allowing liquor tasting events will create parity between liquor, beer, and wine. Beer and wine are already allowed tasting events. But allowing tasting events of spirits the same as allowed for beer and wine, is a significant departure from the way the state has handled liquor. North Carolina law has never treated spirits equal with beer and wine because it is potentially more problematic, which is why the sale of liquor is relegated to ABC stores alone.

  1. It Allows for the Overturning of the Results of an Alcohol Election

The legislation would allow breweries that produce agricultural products for use in the manufacture of malt beverages to sell their products at the brewery, even in jurisdictions that do not allow for the sale of malt beverages. The argument that this is similarly allowed for wineries is easily countered with, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”  This bill doubles-down on this political injustice.

  1. It Allows for the Sale of Alcohol Before Noon on Sundays

SB 155 would allow for the repeal of North Carolina’s current law prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages before the noon hour on Sundays – a law that has always shown deference and respect to churches who rarely ever finish all of their services before noontime. This legislation begs the question: Where is this respect now?

Churches provide an indispensable service to people seriously injured by alcohol abuse – a service that saves the state millions of tax dollars – money that would otherwise go to social services and public assistance programs. The bill is sensitive to business interests but insensitive to churches and unintentionally undercuts the kind of environment that supports the efforts of religion to have a maximum impact for good on the culture.

This is not to mention the number of studies which show that rolling back the sales time for alcohol on Sundays, even as little as two hours, has proven to produce a rise in dangerous consumption rates and an increase in alcohol-related problems.

Placing the two bills together (SB 155 and HB 500) is for expediting the passage of the measure as the 2017 session nears adjournment. The bill, which is now SB – 155 Omnibus ABC Legislation, will be taken up by the House Finance Committee on Monday.

The media still refers to SB 155 as “The Brunch Bill.”

Dr. Creech said, “I find it very difficult to witness lawmakers, good people in whom I have always had much confidence, simply step over the serious concerns posed by this bill.”

SB 155 passed the House ABC Committee in a vote of 17-5.

Read Related the latest stories in the press on the “The Brunch Bill”:

‘Brunch bill’ now part of cocktail of changes to NC liquor laws

‘Brunch Bill’ passes N.C. House alcohol committee

Here’s who’s coming between you and a Sunday morning mimosa – and why

Home Brewers Bill Moves Forward

Wednesday, The Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee took up SB 604 – Homemade Alcoholic Beverage Tasting Permit. The legislation creates a new homemade alcoholic beverage competition and tasting permit, modifying several existing permits to add homemade malt beverages to the types of alcoholic beverages that can be served.

The driving force behind the legislation is the Beer Army Foundation, a non-profit organization that says on its website that its purpose is to “educate lawmakers and the general public…on the economic impact that a thriving statewide homebrew community can provide.”  They want to “make it legal to share, sample and consume homebrews at public and charitable events; and legalize homebrew contests and meetings.”

Dr. Creech said the legislation is seriously flawed because it precipitates a number of questions regarding risk to the public’s health that cannot be sufficiently addressed in its current form.

“What provision in this measure is there for effectively tracking the alcohol from these home brews? Where is the labeling that gives the public the information it may need? How can the public possibly know about the content of these home brews?” he asked.

He added, “Whatever people do in the privacy of their own homes, even if they should unintentionally poison themselves or their own family, is one matter.  But it is another matter altogether when it involves the public.”

The Christian Action League believes that sponsors of the legislation should withdraw the measure, send it back to the drawing board for more work, or lawmakers should defeat it.

SB 604 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate.