State Politics

‘Brunch bill’ also allows Sunday morning sales at stores, clubs

Guests enjoy brunch at Beasley's Chicken + Honey in downtown Raleigh last month.
Guests enjoy brunch at Beasley's Chicken + Honey in downtown Raleigh last month. newsobserver.com

The so-called “brunch bill” the state Senate approved on Thursday expands the sale of alcohol on Sunday morning to more than just restaurants.

A late addition to Senate Bill 155 this week expanded the 10 a.m. Sunday provision to include grocery stores, convenience markets, private clubs and any other place that is licensed to sell alcohol.

But even if the House agrees and the legislature passes the law, it would be up to each city or county to allow early sales. Currently, alcohol can’t be purchased on Sundays before noon.

Sen. Rick Gunn, a Republican from Burlington who is the key sponsor of the legislation, says expanding the sales and consumption of alcohol beyond restaurants would prevent confusion about where and when beer, wine and liquor are available by making it consistent.

Also, Gunn says, Sundays are often the busiest day of the week for grocery stores, and a lot of people shop in the mornings.

It did not seem to be unreasonable, in my opinion, for them to be able to purchase and take off premises a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer for the week.

Sen. Rick Gunn

“It did not seem to be unreasonable, in my opinion, for them to be able to purchase and take off premises a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer for the week,” Gunn said Friday.

Laws prohibiting or restricting alcohol on Sundays have been on the books in North Carolina for centuries. Some religious groups don’t see a need to get rid of them.

“Current law existed for so many years out of deference and respect for churches that don’t end all their services before lunchtime,” the Rev. Mark Creech of the Christian Action League said Thursday. “This bill begs the question: Where’s that respect now? … Surely we can wait until after the preacher has given the benediction.”

Surely we can wait until after the preacher has given the benediction.

Rev. Mark Creech

Creech says the bill as a whole represents a major shift in state alcohol policy. He opposes all of its other provisions, such as allowing distilleries to ship to out-of-state customers and sell up to five bottles a year to each visitor on a distillery tour instead of the current one bottle. Distillers could also serve quarter-ounce samples at festivals.

Creech said his arguments have not resonated in the Senate, which approved the bill by a vote of 32-13 with a bloc of Democrats joining more than half the Republicans to support it. The bill now goes to the House, where Creech will resume the fight.

“There are some pretty powerful lobbying groups that are driving this,” Creech said. “Too often the pursuit of the money trumps concern for health and safety.”

The bill has the backing of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association and the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association. Andy Ellen, president and general counsel of the Retail Merchants Association, says Gunn is right about Sunday shoppers, many driven by Sunday newspaper coupons.

“Additionally, businesses, such as wineries, will benefit because they will be allowed to open to tourists earlier which results in more revenue, employee hours, payroll taxes, sales tax, etc.” Ellen said Friday.

Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue of Raleigh and Sen. Kathy Harrington of Gastonia are co-sponsors.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO

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