Raleigh, N.C. — A proposal to let breweries in dry areas of the state sell their products cleared its first hurdle in the House on Tuesday, despite opposition from religious conservatives.
House Bill 500 originally aimed at allowing North Carolina breweries distribute more of their beer themselves, but that provision was stripped out last week after stiff opposition from the state's wholesaler lobby.
"Politics is the art of the possible, and compromise is often a necessary part of the process," said sponsor Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson.
Without the distribution issue, McGrady said, the two "warring parties," the microbrewers and the wholesalers, had agreed on other changes to the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control laws included in the bill.
One of the remaining sections would allow so-called "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 located in a dry county.
That drew stern opposition from Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, who said the proposal would allow a city council or board of county commissioners to basically overrule a referendum in which voters rejected local alcohol sales.
"The final results of an election should be respected," Creech told lawmakers. "(Breweries) should not be given special privileges."
McGrady said wineries in dry counties are already allowed to sell their products on site. Instead of taking "the easy path" and giving breweries the same permission, he said, the legislation sets a higher standard for breweries, requiring a public hearing and a decision by a local governing body before they can sell their beer on site.
"A public hearing and a governing body is not the same as a vote of the people," said Rep. Pat Hurley, R-Randolph, who tried to get that provision removed from the bill. "It's just back-dooring."
Hurley's amendment failed, and the bill easily passed the committee.
Other provisions in the bill include allowing retailers to sell beer in "crowlers," which are containers sealed on site; allowing breweries to offer tastings during tours; and allowing home brewers to participate in exhibitions and competitions.
Stadium beer permits
The House ABC Committee also passed House Bill 773, which changes the permitting process to sell alcohol at sports and entertainment venues.
Sponsor Rep. Andy Dulin, R-Mecklenburg, said Charlotte Motor Speedway has to obtain 40 permits for each event because alcohol is sold at 40 sites at the track, The proposal would allow the track and other venues with a capacity of more than 3,000 to obtain a master permit.
"This won't assist in the sale of a single additional beer," Dulin said, calling the measure a "smaller government bill."
Still, Robert Hamilton, administrator of the state ABC Commission, told lawmakers that the master permit would allow people to meander about a stadium with a mixed drink instead of having to consume it in a designated area. The proposal still requires alcohol sales to be in designated areas, however, and doesn't allow vendors to take drinks to people in their seats, he said.