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Rep. Moffitt spells out ABCs of liquor law overhaul

Tim Moffitt Tim Moffitt

In addition to the state budget passing and being sent to the governor, last Thursday marked a celebration of sorts as chairman of the House Alcoholic Beverage Control Committee.

Often I am asked what exactly the House ABC Committee does and in particular what is my role in North Carolina ABC legislation. As chairman, I approached this role with an interest in discovering what various stakeholders believed needed improvement and what is the current legislation surrounding beer, wine, and liquor production, distribution, sales, and consumption.

The convoluted and tangled system of regulation, some of which originated during prohibition, coupled with the myriad of issues produced by pandemic shutdowns and supply chain interruptions, produced an outcry from consumers, retailers and producers to make changes. It quickly became apparent legislation was needed to continue moving North Carolina in a more modern direction with the regulations, without creating a larger problem by dismantling our state-controlled system.

In the past nine months, there have been concerted outcry across the state to address cumbersome regulations and distribution issues. Businesses have also sought to increase parity between breweries, wineries, and distilleries, allowing them to market and sell their products on an equal footing, growing businesses in North Carolina.

The first push was to pass H4 [Extend ABC Permit Renewal Fee Deferral], followed by H73 [Temporarily Waive ABC Permit Renewal Fees]. These two bills were designed to help the thousands of bars and restaurants in our state that were forced to close during the pandemic. The bills allowed them to defer fees charged for permits to serve alcohol and then waived fees for one calendar year of the pandemic for businesses unable to open for a substantial portion of the year. These laws alleviate one small portion of the financial challenges businesses faced and eliminated what I believed to be an unfair taking by the state.

Continuing to delve into the issues facing our constituency, both businesses and consumers, I filed eight more bills I ended up rolling into one large piece of legislation, H890 [ABC Omnibus Legislation]. This included the creation of social districts, bringing business back downtown to have positive impact on our communities economically, while promoting safe consumption. There are provisions that will alleviate some of the issues of distribution of specialty products in ABC retail outlets and allow for new tourism businesses to develop. There are provisions removing prohibitions for individuals to trade or exchange liquor among themselves and to be able to visit and shop at distilleries with expanded hours. The legislation also ensures brew pub businesses are allowed to treat their brewery equipment as manufacturing equipment for tax purposes. This was an important change from penalizing them for offering restaurant food at their establishments.

The House ABC Committee met last night to push out the S470 [House ABC Technical and Other Changes] bill that will clarify a few technical issues that arose and will allow businesses more flexibility to upcycle bottles versus merely recycling. This has been sent to the Senate for concurrence in the upcoming weeks.
My primary focal point has been the product availability issue facing both retailers and consumers across North Carolina. I held a committee meeting to make inquiries of the state ABC Commission and the state contracted distributor, LB&B in effort to find the root of the problem. The first meeting spotlighted a need for more thorough probing into the issues plaguing distribution in our state and I plan to continue to delve into this.

While most of my work has been driven by the need to modernize our ABC laws, I am committed to promoting responsibility as well. Today I was honored by the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility for my work on H402/S183 [Begin Modernizing Ignition Interlock Laws]. This law expands the use of ignition interlock devices among those previously been charged with driving while impaired. Many times, offenders are granted limited driving privileges which results in repeat offenses. An ignition interlock device placed on a vehicle requires an individual to breathe into the equipment and if the sensor detects a breath alcohol concentration outside the acceptable range, the vehicle cannot be started. Expanded use of ignition interlock systems would decrease limited driving privileges based on honor system.

Moving our state in a responsible and thoughtful manner forward on alcohol issues is the charge I have given myself and I am proud of the work we have done this year.

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Tim Moffitt represents Henderson County.