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Omnibus ABC bill headed to NC House floor

By John Trump

Carolina Journal News Service

House Bill 536, ABC Omnibus Regulatory Reform, has cleared the N.C. House committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations and heads to the floor for a vote.

The bill is now a proposed committee substitute, including the original bill and aspects of House Bill 91, originally the product of a study by the Program Evaluation Division.

H.B. 536, which headed to the floor Monday, July 8, has undergone some heavy edits, the result of negotiations and compromises with lawmakers who objected to specific provisions.

Although legislation moving the state toward privatization of liquor sales has proved unsuccessful, H.B. 536 as it stands does restrict the formation of new ABC boards, of which the state has about 170. Brunswick County, for instance, has nine boards. Wake and Mecklenburg counties have one apiece. An earlier move by lawmakers to force counties with multiple boards to consolidate failed.

Gone from that bill is a provision for a local option to open N.C. ABC stores on Sundays. Distillers lost a provision allowing them to sell directly to consumers out of state, a move the Christian Action League has consistently opposed. Alcohol also won’t be sold on trains and ferries. The bill includes no provision related to bars.

H.B. 536 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.

H.B. 536 also clarifies rules for the consumption of alcohol in common areas, such as the Morgan Street Food Hall in downtown Raleigh.

Bill sponsor Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, has said H.B. 536 was delayed in House Finance, slowing its progress through the legislature.

“They took two months from the time the bill got there … before they let it out,” said McGrady, a long-time leader in efforts to reform N.C. ABC laws.

“I’m not as disappointed that some things came out of it as I am disappointed with how slowly the bill got taken up,” McGrady said. That was really my disappointment.”

Sarah Potter of Addiction Professionals of N.C. voiced some concerns about H.B. 536 during the hearing Monday. She asked for a study on the bill relating to the impact on vulnerable populations and on state health and human services.

The fate of another alcohol bill remains unclear.

Senate Bill 290 — which passed the Senate, 39-4, and was sent to the House, where it passed the House ABC Committee — remains in the Houses Rules Committee.

S.B. 290 would allow N.C. distilleries to sell malt beverages and unfortified and fortified wine, as well to sell mixed beverages. The bill would allow distillers to, much like ABC stores, sell to consumers without facing the current five-bottle-per-person annual restriction.

It’s not clear if S.B. 290 will get a hearing in the committee before the long session adjourns.

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