By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
May 22, 2014
One bill filed in the Legislature this week could signal a shift that would overtime produce irreparable damage to Alcohol Beverage Control in North Carolina as we know it, while another would open the door to pubs, which have formerly not been allowed in the Tar Heel state.
House Bill 1156, Spirituous Liquor Tastings/City of Asheville, may seem like a very limited measure, allowing three-hour liquor tasting events up to three times a week at ABC stores in the Buncombe County seat. But the implications of such a law would be huge, according to the Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
“The problem we have with this bill, the reason we’re strongly opposed to it is that it would signal a paradigm shift away from what our ABC stores have always been about,” he said. “Yes, it’s about communities wanting the sale of spirituous liquor, but it’s always been about the control and regulation of liquor, never about the promotion of liquor.”
He said the ABC system’s purpose has been to facilitate the public’s desire demonstrated by an alcohol election that they want access to spirituous liquor at an ABC store. But a bill allowing for tasting events inside ABC stores introduces the pursuit of profit by these stores, which is something ABC has historically avoided. “ABC has been concerned with efficiency and service in its regulatory efforts, something to be commended,” Dr. Creech said. “But from its inception, the concept behind community ABC stores has never been about profits, only facilitation to spirituous liquor sales via an ABC store. Introducing the incentive of chasing after sales in partnership with the spirituous liquor industry, I believe, over time could unravel the true meaning of ABC as it’s always been understood,” he added.
Introduced by Representatives Tim Moffit (R), Nathan Ramsey (R), and Susan Fisher (D), all of Buncombe County, and Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), the bill would allow tastings between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. during which customers could drink up to a half ounce of the featured liquor and be given point-of-sale advertising materials. ABC stores would also be allowed to promote the tasting events at any location in the area that sells mixed drinks.
Dr. Creech said. “Opening the door to events like this would, no doubt, drive sales, but that’s not what the voters approved when they voted at the ballot box for an ABC store. ABC stores are about access, regulation, control, and not how much liquor they can sell.”
The bill has been assigned to the ABC subcommittee of the House Committee on Commerce and Jobs, where another alcohol measure also awaits action.
Filed by Rep. Susi Hamilton (D-New Hanover), H 1138, ABC Permits/Pubs, would create a new “pub” category within ABC to allow the Commission to permit alcohol sales by for-profit establishments operated solely for social or recreation purposes and large enough for up to 150 people.
“In North Carolina, we don’t have bars,” explained Dr. Creech. “You can have liquor-by-the-drink sales at restaurants, hotels, private clubs, convention centers, and community theaters, as well as some nonprofit and political organizations, but you can’t just open a pub that doesn’t sell food or fall into one of these specific categories.”
Currently, to qualify as a restaurant, a business must have a kitchen and inside dining area that seats at least 36. Further, its sales from food and non-alcoholic beverages must make up at least 30 percent of total gross receipts.
“Our main concern with this is that where ever mixed drinks have been approved in a local referendum, the idea of having pubs was never a voted on,” Dr. Creech said. “When people considered a liquor-by-the-drink referendum, pubs — bars with no required food sales or really any significant limitations — were never part of the equation.”
Dr. Creech raised the alarm against a third alcohol related provision when it was taken up in the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday morning. On Thursday it passed second reading on the Senate floor and awaits third reading.
Senate Bill 734, Regulatory Reform Act of 2014, is a 62-page bill initially designed to eliminate outdated statutes and modernize or simplify various regulations.
“Then everybody and their mother tacked something onto it, including Section 3.2, Community College Brewing Course Waiver,” Dr. Creech said.
Dr. Creech explains that the CAL recognizes North Carolina already allows for the study of viticulture, the making of wine, and that many of the provisions in the bill simply allow for much of the same in a course of study for the making of malt beverages. However, he pointed out that the League’s primary concern centers on the fact that, unless modified, the bill has the potential to allow for the sale of malt beverages by a community college in an area that does not allow for the sale of malt beverages.
“This qualification in the law, I suggest, is important because it would honor the results of an alcohol election – a cherished right for decades in this state — the right of communities to determine for themselves their own destiny with respect to alcohol sales and its control,” Dr. Creech argues. “Without a provision that makes it clear a Community College may only sell malt beverages where it’s legal, a provision required, I believe, of viticulture programs, I fear we’ve got a worm in the apple.”
Dr. Creech was not alone in questioning the bill.
Sen. Tommy Tucker (R-Union) told fellow committee members that he had a “real problem” with community colleges selling beer.
“I know that the brewery and winery business has taken off in our state and has created jobs. By no means does this question or raise the issue of the training to put those folks in those jobs,” he said. “But to start the ball rolling selling alcohol at community colleges….”
He said he didn’t realize until this week that community college viticulture programs were allowed to sell wine.
“I know this program was mirrored after that, but I don’t know what message it sends. I don’t know where we stop it,” Tucker said. “Does that mean that since public colleges are selling alcohol, since I own lifetime seats at NC State’s football games, does that mean I’m going to be able to buy alcohol at the university?”
Tucker suggested that wine or beer created through educational programs could possibly be transferred to breweries and wineries to sell “rather than the community colleges being in business of selling alcohol, getting a permit and then assuming the liability if someone were to drink too much at an event.”
Sen. Trudy Wade (R-Guilford), one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said the measure allows colleges to hold six events annually and limits the quantity of beer sold. But Tucker pointed out that he knew they could sell 64 cases.
“When I was in college that wouldn’t have been enough, but today it is,” he quipped, reiterating his opposition to the bill and his hope that the committee would consider entertaining another vehicle for the sales.
Nonetheless, the bill proceeded to the Senate Thursday and passed second reading after a number of amendments unrelated to the alcohol section were considered. The bill is expected to pass third reading and be sent to the House.