Raleigh, N.C. — Criticism continues to mushroom over a provision in the Senate budget that would limit the law enforcement powers of state Alcohol Law Enforcement agents and county Alcoholic Beverage Control officers.
WRAL Investigates obtained several days of emails to Sen. Shirley Randleman, R-Wilkes, who authored the provision, through a public records request, including one from Gibsonville Police Chief Ron Parrish, who called the legislation a "personal attack" on ALE.
The provision says ALE agents and ABC officers they can only work cases related to alcohol or lottery crimes or when other law enforcement agencies ask for assistance.
The two agencies ALE agents and ABC officers focus on alcohol-related crimes, but they often get involved in drug cases, investigation of illegal video poker and impaired driving arrests.
"It greatly restricts us," said Lew Nuckles, chief law enforcement officer for Wake County ABC. "When crime is happening around us, this provision is going to limit when I can deal with it."
When WRAL Investigates tried to ask Randleman about the criticism on Thursday, including from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Randleman walked off, saying, "I have not heard from them."
Nuckles said he was "a little shocked" by her statement.
"I had personally met with her the day before, and the only thing that was discussed was this issue," he said, noting that he had spent 45 minutes trying to convince Randleman his job is much more than dealing with underage drinking.
"Not just for ABC laws, but for also drug violations, you have fights, assaults, any other thing that could happen anywhere, any general crime. We need to be able to respond to that," he said.
Randleman emailed WRAL News on Friday, saying she didn't fully hear the question posed to her. She then went on to defend the budget provision.
"The purpose of the Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE) branch is to enforce our state’s alcohol and lottery laws. That is why the budget clarified this agency should focus on enforcing those laws instead of diverting time and resources away from its core mission in order to duplicate work that is the responsibility of other law enforcement entities," she wrote in the email. "Despite some inaccurate claims that this provision would somehow prevent ALE officers from acting when they see other crimes taking place, it would actually allow them to enforce other laws when they have probable cause and to partner with law enforcement agencies investigating other crimes on an as-needed basis."
Rep. Jamie Boles, R-Moore, who chairs the Justice and Public Safety appropriations subcommittee in the House, questioned the need for the provision.
"Why restrict any law enforcement officer of their power to enforce the law?" Boles asked.
He attributed it to a rift between ALE and the State Bureau of Investigation, both parts of the state Department of Public Safety.
"I think it's a turf war. It's all politics," Boles said.
"I don't have time to worry about the political issues, any turf wars," Nuckles said. "I just want to make sure that we're able to do our job."
Even if the provision isn't included in the House budget, it could be part of the negotiations as lawmakers compromise on a final spending plan.