Raleigh, N.C. — A measure to allow alcohol sales before noon on Sundays cleared the House on Tuesday and is one vote away from heading to Gov. Roy Cooper.
The House voted 74-39 in favor of Senate Bill 155, which has been dubbed the "brunch bill" by observers, after some passionate debate by lawmakers morally opposed to expanding alcohol sales.
"We have the option to go back to what ABC stands for," said Rep. Jamie Boles, R-Moore, referring to the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control system. "The 'C' for control has turned into consumption, has turned into convenience and now has turned into cash."
Boles tried to amend the bill to restrict Sunday morning sales to restaurants and hotels and prohibit sales of beer and wine at supermarkets and convenience stores.
"Two hours is not going to make or break any retail store in North Carolina," he said.
"Alcohol is available enough for anyone who wants it," agreed Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash.
But backers said the law needs to be consistent among all sellers, and they reminded opponents that cities and counties would have to approve any Sunday morning sales before they could begin.
Rep. Duane Hall, D-Wake, also noted that people picking up some beer at the store were more likely to be getting ready for a cookout or a tailgate than planning to drink it as soon as they got home.
The House defeated Boles' amendment 41-72.
The bill also added in provisions from House Bill 500, which focused on craft brewers, as well as proposals to benefit the state's distilleries.
One section of the legislation would allow distilleries to sell directly to consumers outside of North Carolina, and Rep. Pat Hurley, R-Randolph, begged her colleagues not to allow that.
"This bill is saturating our state and trying to saturate others with alcohol," Hurley said. "This bill allows the sale to people, not just retail establishments."
She cited a study that found only 28 percent of liquor orders placed online by minors were rejected.
Rep. John Bradford, R-Mecklenburg, noted that the distillers already ship out of state, but because they have to go through wholesalers, North Carolina is losing some sales and excise tax revenue. Also, he said, vineyards in the state have been allowed to ship directly to consumers in five other states and the District of Columbia for more than a decade.
"There's a reason only five states allow this," said Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret. "Why are our children in North Carolina more important than the children in those states?"
Boles also raised the specter of distillers in other states suing to obtain the right to ship directly to North Carolina consumers. But Bradford said a U.S. Supreme Court decision allows states to block direct sales to consumers even if they allow companies to sell directly elsewhere.
The House voted 59-54 to prevent the direct sales outside of North Carolina.
Other provisions in the bill, which still needs final Senate approval, include the following:
- Allows distillers to provide tastings of their liquor at special events with a $200 permit
- Allows distillers to sell up to five bottles of liquor a year to anyone who tours the distillery
- Allows auctioneers to sell high-end wine and liquor with a $750 permit per event
- Allows retailers to sell beer in "crowlers," which are containers sealed on site
- Allows home brewers to participate in exhibitions and competitions
- Allows "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 in a dry county
- Allows wine tastings at farmers markets