Raleigh, N.C. — After much committee discussion in both chambers this session, a proposal to allow alcohol sales before noon on Sunday won approval in the Senate Thursday.
Senate Bill 155 would allow cities and counties to decide whether to allow local restaurants and bars to serve alcohol beginning at 10 a.m. on Sundays.
"This is a pure local option," sponsor Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, told the Senate Rules Committee. "We will join 47 other states in allowing some form of alcohol sales before noon."
The measure also includes several provisions easing rules for the state's growing craft distillery industry. It would allow companies to sell five bottles of their product a year on site to customers who tour their facilities and permit liquor tastings at off-site events by distillery employees or supplier or broker representatives with a $200 permit.
The bill also loosens rules on rebates on alcoholic beverages and allows auctioneers to auction off high-end wine and liquor with a $750 permit per event.
The state has 45 distilleries in operation, with another 22 in the process, said bill supporter Scott Maitland with the North Carolina Distillers' Association, adding that the industry is poised to be as successful in North Carolina as craft brewing has been.
But Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, urged senators to defeat the measure, saying it poses a danger to public health and undermines the state's control system for liquor.
Calling the Sunday sales provision "sensitive to business interests but insensitive to churches," Creech argued, "Surely, we can wait to start serving drinks until after the preacher has said the benediction."
The committee approved the measure on what appeared to be a close voice vote, and the bill went on to win the approval of the full Senate two hours later with little debate and a wider margin of support, 32-13.
It now moves to the House.