Far-reaching alcohol bill gets tentative nod from state House
Posted June 3, 2015
Updated June 4, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — The General Assembly has passed a bill that clears the way for distilleries to sell bottles of their own products to tourists, along with making dozens of other changes to state alcohol laws.
House Bill 909 needs a final House vote Thursday before going to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature or veto.
Some of the measures in the omnibus bill are not controversial. Provisions allowing brewers to share their equipment and banning the sale of powdered alcohol in North Carolina have received virtually no debate as the bill has made its way through the legislature.
Other portions of the bill have limited opposition. For example, a group of California wine makes opposes a measure that would allow retailers to sells growlers – roughly, gallon jugs filled on site – of wine. The wineries fear local retailers might not handle products carefully or put cheaper wine in growlers labeled as a more expensive vintage.
But it has been a provision that would allow North Carolina distilleries to sell one bottle of their product to each person who takes a tour of their plant that has prompted the most debate.
"Your local (ABC) boards back home, whether they be a city board or a county board, are opposed to this bill," Rep. Gary Pendleton, R-Wake, told the House Alcoholic Beverage Control Committee before the bill came to the floor.
Much of that opposition is because local boards fear the distillery provision might open the door to further exceptions in the ABC system that could drain sales and eventually lead to privatization. Currently, all spirituous liquor in the state – rum, vodka and the like – is sold in stores run by a specially created local government agency.
However, other lawmakers on the ABC Committee said that it only makes sense to allow distilleries to do the same thing that wineries and breweries can already do.
"To me, this is not about alcohol. This is about jobs and economic development," Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne, said.
On the House floor, Rep. Charles Jeter, R-Mecklenburg, said that his assumption was that the state was trying to curb deaths from alcohol by preventing its manufacturers from selling their own products. Diabetes, he said, kills more people than alcohol ever year.
"I assume our next bill will be to ban Krispy Kreme from selling doughnuts in the shop," Jeter said, referencing the iconic North Carolina chain that makes doughnuts on location.
State ABC Commission Administrator Robert Hamilton said his state-level agency oversees local ABC board sales but doesn't have a problem with the distillery provision. With the exception of the powdered alcohol provision, which the commission endorses, Hamilton said his agency is "neutral" on the remainder of the bill.
Committee members also grumbled about the process used to create the bill. House Bill 909 left the House carrying just a single issue. When it was redrafted in the Senate, it carried a panoply of provisions, some of which had never been vetted in the House.
"My problem is the process," said Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston. "When we take away our ability to review and look at bills, I find it distressing."
Because of the process used, the House is stuck either approving of all provisions currently in the bill or rejecting it entirely and entering negotiations with the Senate.
Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, said that he didn't like the process used by the Senate either but said that it was the result of House lawmakers failing to move on any number of alcohol-related bills.
"I don't think the process has worked, and that's why we find ourselves where we are," McGrady said.