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Bye, Bye Brown-Bagging? Statewide Liquor-by-the-Drink Proposed

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DUNN — North Carolina's alcohol laws are complex and convoluted; they are different from one county to another, and they have been debated for decades. A House proposal would change all that.The proposed billjust got out of committee Tuesday, and it is already creating a controversy.

Heath's Steak House in Harnett County has been serving prime rib for 27 years. But they have never sold liquor.

Harnett is one of the North Carolina counties that does not allow restaurants to sell liquor by the drink. Under the county's brown-bag policy, you can bring your own.

"They bring their own and we give them a Coke or tonic or whatever they want to go with it," says Restaurant Owner Doug Heath.

A proposal fromRaleigh lawmaker Robert Hensleywould do away with brown-bag permits and let every county in the state serve mixed drinks.

"They would have to decide if they wanted ABC stores, liquor by the drink, just beer, only fortified wine. They could make any of those decisions," Hensley says.

Right now, counties can only serve liquor by the drink if voters approve it. Hensley's plan would let county commssioners --not voters--decide their alcohol laws.

"I think it's a dangerous precedent. It's a major shift in the alcohol policy of North Carolina," saysHickory representative Edgar Starnes.

Harnett county voters have rejected two liquor by the drink referendums. Heath says if the law changed, his restaurant just might stop serving alcohol.

"It would depend on public demand, how much demand there would be," Heath says. "A lot of things would have to be considered, but at this time I don't think we would participate."

Hensley plans to hold a public hearing next week, before bringing his proposal before the full House.


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