Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina's restaurant industry is launching a major push to move legislation that would change Sunday alcohol laws.
Using the hashtag #FreeTheMimosa, the state Restaurant and Lodging Association wants to uncork Senate Bill 155, which has been bottled up in committee for more than a month.
Among its provisions, the measure, which has been dubbed the "Brunch Bill" by supporters, would give cities and counties the option of allowing local restaurants to begin serving alcohol at 10 a.m. on Sundays. State law currently prohibits any alcohol sales before noon on Sundays.
"The reality is we live in an age where people drink alcohol, and there’s no logical reason not to serve it earlier if consumers are demanding it," said Lynn Minges, president and chief executive, of the group, which represents 18,000 restaurants statewide.
Minges said those extra two hours of alcohol sales each week could mean about $25,000 in additional revenue for the average restaurant, based on the impact of changes to similar laws in other states.
"That’s dollars that translates to tax revenue for state and local government as well as jobs for people who make a living in this industry," she said. "I really can’t imagine why anyone is against it."
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, said wider accessibility to alcohol will create problems as well as revenue.
"There are plenty of studies that reveal, if you roll back prohibition on alcohol sales on Sunday as much as just two hours, it does cause a spike in dangerous consumption rates and alcohol-related problems," Creech said.
"All of this I see as a tacit disrespect for churches," he said. "Churches work very hard to minister to people whose lives are harmed by and ruined by alcohol abuse. There’s something disrespectful about that [changing the law]. It’s indicative of our times, but it’s still not right."
The Station restaurant on Person Street in Raleigh advertises $4 Bloody Marys and mimosas on Sundays, but general manager Steve Chiarello, has to advise customers that the drinks aren't available before noon. If the law changes, he says, the restaurant might open earlier than 11 a.m.
"I think it would be much more profitable for us," Chiarello said. "I think it will increase business greatly."
Many customers said they are ready for the change.
"If I wanted a drink early on Sunday, I would think I could go in and order it, (and) they’d bring it out without question," said K’Charias Drewery, who is from Tampa, Fla., and was visiting relatives in Raleigh.
"I think it's probably about time," customer Lee Ratcliffe said.
Because alcohol sales generate revenue for the state, Senate Bill 155 isn't subject to the legislature's "crossover" deadline that killed off scores of bills last week.
Creech said he also worries about other provisions in the bill, including allowing free liquor tastings at state Alcoholic Beverage Control stores. Another provision would let distilleries to sell five bottles of alcohol directly to each person who takes a tour every year rather than going through an ABC store. Currently, that limit is one bottle per person.