State Politics

You could order alcoholic drinks on Sunday mornings under NC Senate bill

2015 News & Observer file photo

A bipartisan bill filed this week in the N.C. Senate would change one of North Carolina’s best-known blue laws: the ban on alcohol sales before noon on Sundays.

Senate Bill 155 wouldn’t allow shoppers to buy beer and wine at grocery stores and other retail outlets on Sunday mornings.

But it would give restaurants more hours to serve alcoholic beverages during brunch. Rather than waiting until noon to start serving mimosas and other drinks, restaurants could begin serving at 10 a.m. if the bill passes – and if local counties and cities agree to allow the change within their boundaries.

The bill is sponsored by Republican Sen. Rick Gunn of Burlington, Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat, and Republican Sen. Kathy Harrington of Gastonia.

The N.C. Restaurant & Lodging Association is supporting the proposal. “This ‘brunch bill’ will allow our North Carolina restaurants and hotels to meet their guest’s needs,” president and CEO Lynn Minges said Wednesday. “With 55 million visitors to our state every year, this bill will be good for tourism and hospitality. The local ‘opt in’ provision is a new approach. We believe a number of counties will want this new option for their citizens and guests.”

But Rev. Mark Creech, director of the conservative Christian Action League, said that adding hours to alcoholic beverage sales leads to an increase in alcohol-related car accidents and other public health problems.

“We certainly don’t need to be adding additional hours to the sales of liquor,” Creech said Wednesday. “This bill is asking for more social harm.”

The ban on Sunday morning alcohol sales stems from an effort to limit drinking during hours when churches are in session. “I think bills like Sen. Gunn’s are a sign of the times, and they show us that there’s not the same respect among some lawmakers and some business interests for religious principles as there has been in the past,” Creech said.

The other provisions of SB 155 would loosen the regulations governing North Carolina’s growing craft distillery industry. Most notably, distilleries would be able to get a permit to offer free liquor tastings at special events such as street festivals, trade shows and agricultural festivals. Distillers could also offer tastings at ABC stores.

Craft distillers are seeking the changes to give them more opportunities to market their products; local breweries and wineries already offer tastings at special events.

Creech, however, said he’s concerned about the provision that would allow free tastings inside state-run ABC stores. He notes that the ABC system was created to regulate liquor sales, rather than to promote the products.

“This particular measure creates a paradigm shift allowing our ABC stores to be involved in active marketing and promoting the sale of spirits,” he said.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter