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@NCCapitol

'Brunch bill' now part of cocktail of changes to NC liquor laws

Posted June 22
Updated June 28

— A measure to allow alcohol sales before noon on Sunday is advancing in the House after being blended with other proposed changes to state liquor laws.

Senate Bill 155, dubbed the "brunch bill" by observers, initially called for allowing cities and counties to decide whether to allow local restaurants and bars to serve alcohol beginning at 10 a.m. on Sundays. The House Alcoholic Beverage Control Committee expanded that Thursday to allow supermarkets and other locations to sell beer and wine earlier on Sundays as well.

The new bill also added in provisions from House Bill 500, which focused on craft brewers. That measure cleared the House in April but is mired in Senate committees. Putting all of the provisions together in a substitute bill could speed its passage.

The resulting alcohol omnibus drew sharp criticism from both religious conservatives and the local ABC boards.

"This legislation repeals current law, a law that's largely been in deference and respect to churches, and it begs the question, where's that respect now?" said Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. "I think we deserve that respect to continue, and by the way, there's nothing wrong with government working to provide an optimum environment for religion to flourish. This legislation diminishes that."

Creech specifically targeted provisions that would allow distillers to sell directly to consumers outside of North Carolina, saying it would aggravate underage drinking in other states, and to provide tastings of their liquor at special events with a $200 permit.

"This measure places liquor on the same par as beer and wine, something we have never done before," he said. "We have traditionally and correctly seen liquor as potentially more problematic, and this is why we have ABC stores."

John Carr, a lobbyist for the North Carolina Association of ABC Boards, said a provision that would allow distillers to sell up to five bottles of liquor a year to anyone who tours the distillery, undermines the ABC sales system.

"Does it end with five bottles?" Carr asked, noting lawmakers two years ago started allowing distillers to sell one bottle per person per year after tours. "It is not inconvenient to go to an ABC store. They are located, on average, 2.8 miles from the distilleries."

Donald Bryson, state president of Americans for Prosperity, said a few dozen distillers across North Carolina selling a few bottles a year to visitors won't dent the billion-dollar ABC system. The state needs to encourage the entrepreneurs who have started distilleries instead of demonizing them, he said.

"We're a state that created a multibillion-dollar sport because of distilling," Bryson said.

Jim Beley, general manager of the Umstead Hotel in Cary and a representative of the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association, praised the Sunday morning alcohol sales provision, noting it could generate millions of dollars in annual sales statewide – as well as added tax revenue.

"Sunday brunch continues to be a major part of people's vacation experience but also a popular social scene for families on the weekends," Beley said. "Our guests are often disappointed that we cannot offer them a celebratory beverage prior to 12:01 p.m."

Rep. Pat Hurley, R-Randolph, one of a handful of lawmakers to oppose the omnibus bill, bemoaned the growing access to alcohol in the state and worried about the potential increase in alcohol-related crashes.

"We're saturating North Carolina with this, and I'm sorry," Hurley said. "I'm very concerned, especially with so many opportunities for them to decide to take a drink and then drive."

But Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, said beer and alcohol have become so ingrained in weekend culture, from football games to fishing trips, that the state cannot continue to fight the tide.

"If people are abusing alcohol and causing accidents, I would say that's more of a case that we're just not doing our mission of teaching these people restraint and good behavior," Brawley said. "What we really need to do is to get them into church where we don't serve alcohol."

Other provisions in the bill include the following:

  • Allows auctioneers to sell high-end wine and liquor with a $750 permit per event
  • Allows retailers to sell beer in "crowlers," which are containers sealed on site
  • Allows home brewers to participate in exhibitions and competitions
  • Allows "farm breweries" – a farm that grows hops or grain and then uses the crops to make beer – to sell their brew themselves, even if the brewery is in a dry county
  • Allows wine tastings at farmers markets

The bill easily cleared the committee on a voice vote, but it still has to clear at least one more House committee before getting floor votes in the House and the Senate.

7 Comments

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  • Jimmy Jones Jun 23, 10:46 a.m.
    user avatar

    Rep. Pat Hurley, R-Randolph, one of a handful of lawmakers to oppose the omnibus bill, bemoaned the growing access to alcohol in the state and worried about the potential increase in alcohol-related crashes.

    "We're saturating North Carolina with this, and I'm sorry," Hurley said. "I'm very concerned, especially with so many opportunities for them to decide to take a drink and then drive."

    Ah, the good ole religionists...alcohol is evil....never mind that Christ's first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding celebration......As Christians we shouldn't abuse alcohol like the pagans did (do) during their "religious ceremonies" and we shouldn't be drunkards. However, that doesn't mean that we can't partake of alcohol and enjoy it. Religionists are stumbling blocks for Christianity. Jesus, in His day, was against the "organized religious leaders". They made loving and worshiping God a tedious matter with "rules and laws".
    We don't need these "religionists'" laws.

  • R.J. Ainsworth Jun 22, 8:07 p.m.
    user avatar

    Also, if these church going folks were so concerned, instead of fighting the passing of this bill, they would be out doing "God's work by spreading his message" to all of the Sunday mimosa coneseurs

  • R.J. Ainsworth Jun 22, 8:05 p.m.
    user avatar

    The folks that are being quoted in this article are surely the same that spout off on the progress made toward allowing deer hunting on Sunday. They seem to forget that if people follow in their beliefs, the laws will not affect them. If John Smith is a devout Baptist, he won't give it up because he can now buy a beer right before bible study...They sure don't call it the bible belt for nothing.

  • Quid Malmborg Jun 22, 6:36 p.m.
    user avatar

    "This legislation repeals current law, a law that's largely been in deference and respect to churches, and it begs the question, where's that respect now?" said Rev. Mark Creech

    In consideration of "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." it's obvious the existing law is patently unconstitutional, and since no state can pass a law which violates the US Constitution the existing law deserves to be struck down. Less an "attack" on X-tianity and more of a support to the rights of all citizens.

  • Jennifer Hulford Jun 22, 5:55 p.m.
    user avatar

    The basis for blue laws has always been extremely questionable. They were worse when I lived in New England. But they make no sense. The comments from the religious folks in this article were cringe-worthy.

  • Paul Shields Jun 22, 5:14 p.m.
    user avatar

    Mr John Carr is quoted as ABC stores located on average 2.8 miles from the distilleries. Please show me that in Person County. He is a lobby for a state agency he is like anyone from the government of our great state OVER LOOKS PERSON COUNTY, well unless it is going to snow than the camera's come up lol

  • Mike Pittman Jun 22, 3:25 p.m.
    user avatar

    I have a novel idea, churches, stay out of our government, like our system was intended to be. "Blue laws" were wrong from the beginning. And why the hell should just your christian church have deference? What about other denominations that have nothing to do with Sunday mornings?