News: Quick Takes

Latest bills to reform N.C. liquor laws would benefit state’s craft distilleries

The stack of bills from N.C. lawmakers looking to reform and modernize the state’s 80-year-old liquor laws is growing.

In the Senate, lawmakers filed Senate Bill 290 on Monday, March 18. A companion bill, House Bill 378, came Tuesday morning.

The measures would allow N.C. distilleries to sell malt beverages and unfortified and fortified wine, as well to sell mixed beverages. The moves would allow distilleries to sell spirits directly to consumers and would allow liquor tastings at state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission stores.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, and Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, have long been proponents of reforming the antiquated system and are among the sponsors of the most recent bills.

The latest measures would, maybe most important, allow distillers to, much like ABC stores, sell to consumers without the current five-bottle restriction, according to state and local laws. Under the new rules, distilleries could issue purchase-transportation permits for spirits. Those permits now must be approved by ABC officials.

Sens. Joyce Waddell, D-Mecklenburg, and Andy Wells, R-Catawba, filed legislation last month that would take a big step toward reforming the alcohol control system in North Carolina.

Those bills are based on recommendations by the N.C. Program Evaluation Division, which presented a report — “Changing how North Carolina Controls Liquor Sales has Operational, Regulatory, and Financial Ramifications” — to the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee on Feb. 11.

Senate Bill 87 — and its companion, House Bill 91 — would require the merger of N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission systems in a county with two or more ABC systems. House Bill 99, and Senate Bill 78, would establish Alcohol Law Enforcement as a separate division under the Department of Public Safety, as well as to clarify the jurisdiction and primary responsibilities of ALE agents.

Another bill has already passed in the Senate.

That measure, Senate Bill 11, introduced by Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba, was introduced, in large part, because of a spate of shootings and killings outside three Catawba County bars between April 2017 and April 2018.

The House standing committee for Alcohol Beverage Control meets 3 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, to address the aforementioned bills.