The N.C. House committee on Alcoholic Beverage Control moved several bills Wednesday, May 5, including measures to expand growler sizes, to allow alcohol service on charter buses, and to set up “social districts.”

House Bill 781, Bring Business Back to Downtown, generated much discussion before moving to the House Rules Committee.

The bill has two parts, said Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Henderson, a primary sponsor. One, it would allow municipalities to install social districts. He pointed to the Streets at Southpoint in Durham as an example, where people would leave a restaurant and carry a cup of alcohol within a permitted area. The second aspect, Moffitt says, would allow bars and restaurants to, in effect, extend their premises, which the governor has temporarily allowed in an executive order after the pandemic. H.B. 781 would make this permanent.

Local governments would have the option of opting in or out of the new rules, as they could with the so-called “brunch bill” a couple years back.

Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, referenced the N.C. Folk Festival in his own district, which allows vendors on the street to serve alcohol, but not restaurants for consumption outside their property.

It’s a good bill, said Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, but local discretion is key, pointing to Franklin Street on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus in his district. It may not be right for every place, he said, but it provides a mechanism defining what’s allowed and what isn’t.

Andy Ellen, president of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association, said the bill is modeled after legislation in Ohio and Michigan. People would be given drinks in designated cups, for instance, and they couldn’t use them to “bar hop.”

With COVID-19 concerns persisting, he said, some remain wary of dining indoors.

“It lets them get outside,” Ellen said. The bills would also help businesses that have struggled since the shutdowns.

“It’s a great way to help bring them back.”

House Bill 722 would expand the size of growlers, essentially refillable containers for beer and cider, from two liters to four liters. House Bill 693 would allow alcohol to be sold and served on common carriers, such as charter buses. The Rev. Mark Creech, a consistent opponent of any move to loosen alcohol rules in North Carolina, said during the meeting the move would create “bars on wheels.” 

H.B. 722 and H.B. 693 moved to the Rules Committee, as did House Bill 768, which directs the Legislative Research Commission to study ABC rules in other states, as well as the federal government. House Bill 619 moved out of the ABC committee to the tax-writing Finance Committee. It clarifies for the Department and Revenue and producers specific sales tax exemptions on machinery and equipment used in the process of making alcohol.