News: Quick Takes

Omnibus ABC bill passes House, heads to Senate

Beer taps at Raleigh Brewing Co. (CJ photo by Kari Travis)
Beer taps at Raleigh Brewing Co. (CJ photo by Kari Travis)

House Bill 536, ABC Omnibus Regulatory Reform, cleared the N.C. House, 91-24, on Tuesday, July 9, and was sent to the Senate.

The bill, which has undergone many revisions, includes aspects of House Bill 91, originally the product of a study by the Program Evaluation Division.

Although legislation moving the state toward privatization of liquor sales has proved unsuccessful, H.B. 536 restricts the formation of new ABC boards, of which the state has about 170. 

It’s easier to explain the bill, Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, the primary sponsor said Tuesday, by listing things no longer in it, such as direct online sales, Sunday sales, and the sale of alcohol on trains and ferries.

Rep. Pat Hurley, R-Randolph, has consistently objected to the idea of ending proliferation of the boards and was successful in fighting an earlier move that would have forced counties with multiple boards to merge the boards. Hurley on Tuesday, citing the idea of local control, again tried to keep lawmakers from touching the boards with a proposed amendment to maintain the status quo. But that move failed, 71-45, on the House floor.

H.B. 536, sponsored by Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, will allow brewers to offer tastings at farmers markets and removes a limitation on sales at the state’s craft distilleries. The bill allows restaurants and other venues to sell up to two drinks per customer at any one time, and would allow liquor tastings at state ABC stores, from 1 to 7 p.m., for three hours, with no more than three tastings per week.

Concerned about drunk people ordering multiple spirituous drinks, Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, proposed an amendment killing the two-drink provision for cocktails and shots. The original bill, McGrady pointed out, allowed people to order up to four drinks, so compromises have already been made.

But, unlike Hurley’s move, Jackson’s amendment passed, 58-56.

H.B. 536 also clarifies rules for the consumption of alcohol in common areas, such as the Morgan Street Food Hall in downtown Raleigh, and allows customers to buy a single bottle from approved special orders to ABC stores.

Significantly, the bill enacts reforms enabling the ABC to become more flexible for consumers and more customer-friendly. The measure, if it becomes law, compels local ABC boards to supply, upon request, any state ABC-approved product to holders of mixed-beverage permits. As of now, nothing compels the local boards to stock or supply any state-approved product, leaving inventory choices to the whims of the politically entrenched boards.

H.B. 536 also includes a mandate for N.C. ABC, which, starting Oct.  15, and quarterly thereafter, will be required to submit a written report to the chairs of the Joint Legislative  Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety “detailing the progress made in bidding and selecting an independent contractor for the receipt, storage, and distribution of spirituous liquor at and from the state  warehouse” in accordance with the general statutes.

In August of last year, the Office of State Auditor Beth Wood released a report saying the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control commission — the agency in charge of controlling state alcohol production, storage, sales and distribution — has over past years cost the state about $13.5 million.