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Moffitt's ABC reform bills advance

RALEIGH — Several bills to help N.C. distillers and to loosen alcohol regulation in the state are moving through the General Assembly. Some have progressed to the floor, of both or one of the bodies, while others are mired in committee.

One measure, House Bill 693, on Wednesday, June 16, passed the N.C. House on second reading, 88-15, and was sent to the Senate. The move would allow alcohol to be sold and served on common carriers, such as charter buses. The Rev. Mark Creech, a consistent opponent of moves to loosen alcohol rules in North Carolina, said during an earlier committee meeting the move would create “bars on wheels.”

Rep. Tim Moffitt, a Hendersonville Republican who is primary sponsor of the bill, came to the General Assembly for the second time in 2020, when Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, appointed him to fill Rep. Chuck McGrady’s seat in District 117. McGrady, a strong proponent of reforming the state’s antiquated liquor control system, had served two terms from Buncombe County, from 2011 to 2015.

H.B. 693, which creates a common carrier vehicle permit, authorizes the sale or service of malt beverages, unfortified wine, fortified wine, and mixed beverages in the passenger area of a common carrier of passengers for consumption, by passengers, during journeys of 75 miles or longer that don’t end within 10 miles of the journey’s origin.

Another measure, House Bill 781, Bring Business Back to Downtown, passed the House in May but is stuck in the Senate. The move generated much discussion before moving to the House Rules Committee.

The bill has two parts, said Moffitt, who is also primary sponsor of the H.B. 781. One, it would allow municipalities to create social districts. He pointed to the Streets at Southpoint in Durham as an example, where people would leave a restaurant and carry a cup of alcohol within a permitted area. The second aspect, Moffitt says, would allow bars and restaurants to, in effect, extend their premises, which the governor temporarily allowed in an executive order after the pandemic. H.B. 781 would make this permanent.

Local governments would have the option of opting in or out of the new rules, as they could with the so-called “brunch bill” a couple of years back.

House Bill 722, which would expand the size of growlers — refillable takeout containers for beer and cider — from two liters to four liters, has passed the House. It passed the first reading in the Senate but was referred to the Rules committee.

House Bill 890, was, as introduced, an all-encompassing measure, incorporating some measures that have already cleared one chamber of the General Assembly. It would allow people to order online and pick products up from state ABC stores, expand the size of growlers from two liters to four, loosen rules for tours in N.C. distilleries, and allow distillers to sell their products at festivals. Maybe most important — and also probably the biggest point of contention — is a provision in the bill that levels the proverbial playing field, allowing distilleries to operate like their beer and wine counterparts, apart from ABC control regarding hours of operation. As it stands, distilleries can’t open if a local ABC is not open.

The measure passed the House and was referred to the Senate, where it passed the first reading May 12. It’s now in Senate Rules. Other alcohol measures, such as House Bill 619, are stuck in committee. That bill would provide a sales tax exemption for equipment, machinery, and supplies used in creating certain types of alcohol. It passed a first reading in the House but was referred to committee.

The rules for alcohol in North Carolina are defined in Chapter 18B of the General Statutes, first written in the late 1930s.

“It’s like looking at the rings of a tree,” Moffitt told Carolina Journal, regarding the complex and sometimes contradictory laws. “Each ring tells a certain story about a session of the General Assembly.” Moffitt says he searches for efficiencies, consistent interpretations. Inconsistent ones. “You can see all these things,” Moffitt says. “What that’s done is created somewhat of an inconsistency in the way that the (ABC) commission operates, and it’s not them. It’s just an inconsistency of all the hodgepodge of and patchwork of laws.”