Sunday diners could enjoy a mimosa with their brunch under a bill that moved a little closer to passage Wednesday.
Senate Bill 155 would allow cities and counties to authorize liquor sales as early as 10 a.m. on Sundays, two hours earlier than allowed now.
It also would liberalize laws governing the state’s growing distillery industry. The bill cleared the North Carolina’s Senate Finance Committee on a voice vote and now goes to the Rules Committee.
Supporters and critics alike said the bill could signal a new era in North Carolina.
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“We think it’s time for these blue laws to fade away in North Carolina,” said Lynn Minges, president and CEO of the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association. “We believe this is a measured approach to allow counties and municipalities to opt in.”
She said it could mean at least $25 million a year in additional restaurant sales.
But one critic said the bill would diminish the state’s traditional deference to religion.
“I think the bill is in many ways indicative of the times,” said Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “There was a sensitivity to religion. That same sensitivity these days is trumped by the pursuit of profit.”
The distillery bill reflects the growth of a new and expanding industry. Like wineries and craft breweries, distilleries have mushroomed in the state.
Industry spokesmen say by year’s end there will be nearly 80 distilleries in the state, almost all starting this decade. They claim bottle sales would increase 150 percent to $1 million if the bill passes. If it doesn’t, they say distilleries could close.
“There’s no doubt about it,” said Scott Maitland, who owns a Chapel Hill distillery.
And like wine producers and craft brewers, distillers have turned to the state for help in producing and marketing their products.
Along with the earlier Sunday sales, the bill would allow distillers to sell up to five bottles a year to people who tour their facility. Now the limit is one.
For a $200 permit, distillers could also give out free, quarter-ounce samples of their products at events such as street festivals. Each consumer or festival-goer would be limited to 1 ounce of samples a day.