The option to pick up a six-pack of beer at the grocery store on Sunday mornings was briefly removed – then added back to – the “brunch bill” moving forward in the N.C. House.
The House Alcoholic Beverage Control Committee voted in favor of a new version of the bill Thursday. When the committee meeting began, a revised bill included Sunday morning sales at restaurants, but not in stores. But in a 17-5 vote, the committee restored language allowing retail stores to begin selling alcohol at 10 a.m. Sundays – instead of noon. The bill had passed the Senate 32-13 with the retail sales provision included earlier this month.
Opposition to the grocery store sales proved to be bipartisan: Democratic Reps. Rosa Gill of Raleigh and Shelly Willingham of Rocky Mount joined Republican Reps. Pat Hurley of Asheboro, Larry Potts of Lexington and Jamie Boles of Southern Pines in voting against the amendment.
“I’m really upset with being saturated with alcohol in every place,” Hurley said, arguing the entire brunch bill could result in more drunk driving.
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The bill would also allow restaurants to begin serving alcoholic beverages at 10 a.m. on Sundays, a major priority for the restaurant and hotel industry. Local governments would have to agree to the earlier hours.
“Our guests are often disappointed that we cannot serve them a celebratory beverage prior to 12:01 p.m.,” said Jim Beley of The Umstead Hotel in Cary.
Also still in the bill: A provision allowing craft distilleries to sell up to five bottles of their liquor to visitors who tour their facility, up from one bottle under current law. Distilleries could also offer quarter-ounce samples of their liquors at festivals, trade shows and other events, if they obtain a permit.
The state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control boards are opposing that provision of the bill. “It is not inconvenient to go to an ABC store” to buy more than one craft liquor bottle, said Jon Carr, lobbyist for the N.C. Association of ABC Boards. “Does it end with five bottles?”
But Donald Bryson of the conservative group Americans For Prosperity said the change would help distilleries and wouldn’t involve enough sales to harm ABC stores. He was critical of what he called “an attempt to demonize people who own distilleries.”
“We are a state that created a multi-billion dollar sport because of distilling,” he said.
The version of Senate Bill 155 approved Thursday also incorporates provisions from other alcohol legislation under consideration – likely an attempt to smooth passage of new alcohol regulations as the legislative session draws to a close.
Other newly added provisions include looser regulations on craft breweries. The new version of the bill would allow breweries located on farms to sell their beer even if they’re located in a dry county where alcohol sales aren’t allowed outside city limits – as long as the local government agrees to issue a permit.
It would allow also the sale of “crowlers,” which are 32-ounce sealed cans of beer. It would allow home brewers of beer and wine to offer tastings at home brewing events. And it would allow breweries to offer “guest taps” of beverages produced elsewhere – something that many already do under an unclear law.
Some of the provisions have drawn opposition from conservative religious groups like the Christian Action League.