Senate Commerce Committee also considers policy for location of new ABC stores 1000 feet from a school or church
Christian Action League
A bill (SB 988 Spirituous Liquor Tasting at ABC Stores) that would have allowed spirituous liquor tasting at local ABC stores was soundly defeated in the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday.
Senator Malcolm Graham (D-Mecklenburg), the bill’s primary sponsor explained the measure to the Committee. Graham said the bill would allow tasting events, which would provide samples of no more than 1.5 ounces of spirituous liquor at no charge. The liquor used for the tasting event would have to come from the ABC store where the event was being held and liquor tasting would not be allowed at any other time than the event. Advertising and advertising specialties would be allowed and no under-aged person would be served.
Lobbyists, David Warner from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) and Barry Becton of Diageo North America, Inc., testified in favor of the bill. Becton contended that tasting events can provide an economic benefit for the States that allow them. “I can think of no place as well suited to conduct spirits tasting than a North Carolina ABC store” said Becton.
But Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, who also testified before the committee, disagreed. Creech started his remarks with some humor, stating he didn’t believe spirituous liquor tasting events would “result in huge leaps in consumption levels, drunken debaucheries, and riotous living” – a remark that generated laughter and some punchy remarks by Senate members.
“Nevertheless, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, the Christian Action League’s concerns, I think, are no less important,” said Creech. “And I do hope that you will weigh heavily what I am about to share.”
Creech’s speech continued as follows:
“When the North Carolina General Assembly was debating the merits of whether or not to adopt a state lottery, one of the arguments made in favor of the measure was that our State was already in the liquor business. I argued then, as I do now, with a sense of pride – our State has never been in the liquor business. North Carolina ABC has traditionally been about control – regulating the sale – controlling the flow of a product that is not a normal commodity and presents a considerable health risk to the public. ABC has largely speaking – traditionally – never been about the promotion of alcohol sales. ABC has rightly stuck to neutrality and avoided any appearances of endorsements or encouragements to drink. The purpose of ABC has been simply to provide accessibility to the form of alcoholic beverages North Carolinians voted for at the ballot box.
But this legislation crosses a line. It moves from simply providing accessibility to promotion. It is the principle of the matter that concerns us because it is a shift in philosophy and approach. It is no longer a position of neutrality, but one of active participation with the industry.
It is our hope and prayer that this committee will weigh heavily what this change would mean. Our deepest concern is that it would mean that ABC is not simply complicit with the sale of spirituous liquor, but now an active participant. That is far more than what people voted for at the ballot box. It is far more than what, generally speaking, most North Carolinians understand to be the purpose of ABC.
And for these reason the Christian Action League asks that you not support this legislation.”
During debate on the measure, Sen. Martin Nesbitt (D-Buncombe) said that he guessed he was as progressive as anyone on allowing people access to alcoholic beverages. “But I don’t see how this could be any good,” said the lawmaker. Sen. Jim Jacumin (R-Burke) said that he firmly concurred. “More liquor means more liquor problems,” said Jacumin.
The vote on the bill was taken by a voice vote. Though a few of the Senate members voted for the measure, there was a resounding “no” by the vast majority.
No New ABC Stores Within 1,000 Feet of a School or Church
The Senate Commerce Committee also considered legislation (SB 68) that would prohibit the location of any new ABC store within one thousand feet of a church, public school, or a nonpublic school.
Sponsored by Sen. Katie Dorsett (D-Guilford), the
bill originated from an argument between the school board in Greensboro and the ABC Board. The Board wanted to relocate a liquor store located approximately 1700 feet west of SCALE Academy next to the school.
School officials had been in contact with the ABC board to try and resolve the issue, but to no avail. According to the Greensboro Record, “The Guilford County Board of Education voted 10-0 to file a formal complaint opposing the liquor store.” Dorsett noted during the Commerce Committee that they also requested legislation be introduced to address the matter.
Rev. Creech, testified in favor of the bill. Creech noted from two different studies that alcohol sales at local liquor stores tend to increase violence in their communities regardless of location. He also cited a study from the School of Public Health and the University of Florida that when alcohol advertising is allowed within a 1500 feet radius of a school – children exposed to such advertising are likely to exhibit increased intentions to drink. He mentioned that the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, DISCUS and the Beer Institute have all voluntarily agreed not to advertise at least 500 feet of schools. “So if the alcohol industry agrees that it should not advertise near schools, then perhaps the State shouldn’t be locating an ABC sign or approving sales nearby,” he said.
Creech concluded his remarks by adding that the State of Texas does not allow an alcohol outlet within three hundred feet of a church, public or private school. Nor does it allow an alcohol outlet within a thousand feet of a public or private school, if the governing body of the city receives a request from the governing body of the private school or from the board of trustees of the school district. “Surely, ladies and gentlemen of the Committee, North Carolina can do as good, if not better than Texas,” he said.
Because there seemed to be some discomfort with the measure, the bill’s sponsor offered an amendment to make the legislation a local bill, applying only to Guilford County. The amendment passed and so did the bill. “But that was problematic,” said Creech. “Obviously, the bill’s sponsor and members of the Committee were either unaware or unsure about the prohibition in North Carolina’s Constitution that forbids lawmakers from enacting legislation that regulates local trade. “Alcohol is considered a trade in this State,” said Creech. “That amendment to the bill made it unconstitutional. If the measure can’t be applied state-wide, it violates the State’s Constitution.”
The bill was calendared to be heard on the Senate floor on Thursday, but lawmakers pulled the legislation and sent it back to Committee to make it apply state-wide.