News: Quick Takes

Bill to strengthen alcohol enforcement moves to House

A bill to strengthen permitting rules for selling alcohol and the ability of law enforcement to crack down on violators has unanimously passed the N.C. Senate.

Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba, introduced Senate Bill 11, in large part because of a spate of shootings and killings outside three Catawba County bars between April 2017 and April 2018. Republicans Jim Davis of Cherokee County and Norm Sanderson, Carteret County, are co-sponsors.

Senators passed the bill with 48 votes Tuesday, Feb. 19. It heads to the House.

Wells said he became frustrated with the violence and the inability of law enforcement to control it and to revoke licenses. The problems, he said, often happen because businesses that operate as a restaurant become a bar at night.

What amounts to a family restaurant, Wells said, turns into a bar, and some of these operators are incapable of running such a business.

He said he worked with the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission to address the situation through legislation. He calls it a law-enforcement issue.

The bill strengthens the ABC’s authority to levy fines and to suspend and revoke licenses to sell liquor. The measure gets rid of provision giving permits to 19-year-olds who manage a business in which alcohol is sold. No one younger than 21 can receive a permit, according to the bill.

It also clarifies the definitions of private clubs and private bars.

This bill defines a private bar as “an establishment that is organized and operated as a for-profit entity and that is not open to the general public but is open only to the members of the organization and their bona fide guests for the purpose of allowing its members and their guests to socialize and engage in recreation.”

A private club, it says, “is an establishment that qualifies under Section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 … and that has been in 40 operation for a minimum of 12 months prior to application for an ABC permit.”

Business, Wells said, that operate as “private clubs” are, in actuality, “private bars.”

“A lot of the problem is that restaurants are operating as bars, under a restaurant license.

“Let’s call them what they are,” he said, while also referencing some 80-year-old alcohol-related statutes in North Carolina, which have become outdated and often irrelevant.