Republican state senators appear to be divided over a “brunch bill” proposal that would allow restaurants to serve alcohol on Sundays at 10 a.m. – instead of waiting until noon – as well as loosen restrictions on craft distillery liquor sales.
The Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee held a hearing on the bill Wednesday and plans to vote Thursday.
Senate Bill 155 would let restaurants begin serving mimosas and other drinks at 10 a.m. – if local counties and cities agree to allow the change within their boundaries. It would also allow distilleries to get a permit to offer free liquor tastings at special events such as street festivals, trade shows and agricultural festivals, as well as at ABC stores. And distilleries could sell more bottles to visitors touring their facilities and ship their products out of state.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Rick Gunn of Burlington, argued the changes will spur economic development. “We’ve all heard how important the tourism and hospitality business is in North Carolina,” Gunn said, referring to the brunch provision. “Our distilleries are growing, it’s a big business in the state of North Carolina, and they’re investing a lot of capital and a lot of time.”
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Jim Beley, general manager of The Umstead Hotel and Spa, said the extra brunch hours would be a “great boost” for restaurants and hotels.
“We disappoint many of those guests on a Sunday morning when celebratory beverages would like to be shared, and we cannot sell beverages until 12:01 on Sunday,” Beley said.
Some GOP senators, however, were skeptical of the change. “This is something that a whole lot of citizens in the state of North Carolian hold very dear,” Sen. Norman Sanderson said of the current alcohol laws. “I don’t know how they’re going to take the direction we’re going in.”
Sen. Bill Cook, a Beaufort County Republican, questioned the potential public health impacts of the changes. “Will there be a downside?” he asked. “Will there be more drunks? Will there be families ruined?”
Rev. Mark Creech of the conservative Christian Action League argued that Sunday morning drinking is disrespectful to the religious community. “I think I speak for a lot of pastors when I say we have to deal constantly with people whose lives have been ruined by alcohol sales or abuse of alcohol,” he said. “There’s a sort of tacit disrespect here for the people I represent – that during the primary time that we’re meeting, you’re going to allow sales.”
One Republican, however, questioned why Gunn’s bill didn’t go further – by allowing Sunday morning alcohol sales in grocery stores as well. “I can’t see any reason for putting that limitation and excluding that big shopping day for some of the stores,” said Sen. Ron Rabin, a Harnett County Republican.
The distillery-related provisions of the bill also drew concerns. Some lawmakers questioned how the state could regulate liquor tastings to ensure that the samples provided aren’t larger than one-quarter ounce. And a provision allowing for auctions of expensive or rare liquors prompted some to wonder whether a loophole could emerge in which people might sell liquor by the truckload.
“I think we’re greatly underestimating the bootlegger business,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican.