The North Carolina House passed H.B. 768, the 2022 ABC Omnibus, by a vote of 100-9 Wednesday afternoon. The extensive bill is designed to decrease regulations on bar owners and expand the freedom of alcohol transportation and sales. North Carolina is one of 17 states where liquor sales are still controlled by the government. The North Carolina Bar Owners Association has pushed for these reforms in the past and a few of their key points are included in the bill.
The most notable is the definition of a Private Bar. Under the current law, a private bar is an establishment that is primarily engaged in the business of selling alcoholic beverages and that does not serve prepared food. H.B. 768 eliminates the $1 membership requirement for people at private bars that the NCBOA said is, “rooted in racist beginnings designed to legally discriminate against people of color,” but also can be burdensome to bar owners in general.
In October 2020, during COVID shutdowns, the definition of a private bar was important because Gov. Roy Cooper allowed private bars to operate at 30% of their outdoor capacity. In a January 2021 press release, the NCBOA said that 120 private bar permits were canceled without any notice, making employees of the bars face potential unemployment and businesses face financial crisis.
Opening bars at 30% of outdoor capacity was not inclusive of bars that didn’t have an outdoor area. The ABC commission considered all private bars to be open in October 2020 despite many remaining closed due to government-imposed restrictions. This bill seeks to provide clarity and reduce these regulations.
A transition period for owners of stores with ABC permits is being created under the new bill. Owners will now have 60 days to apply for new permits after a change of management.
“One of our former county commissioners had a convenience store, and he passed away. As soon as he passed away, the ABC permits were surrendered to the ABC commission,” N.C. Rep. Timothy D. Moffitt, primary sponsor of the bill, told Carolina Journal, “So the convenience store was unable to sell the alcohol they had, lottery tickets, or anything related to the ABC permits. What we’re doing is creating a landing area where these businesses can continue to operate during the transition period.”
H.B. 768 also expands the right to serve alcoholic beverages at sporting events beyond public universities. Community colleges will now be included as well. This was added because of a community college that hosts a minor league baseball team at their stadium.
H.B. 768 will expand the reach of alcohol sales with repealing the ABC store or distillery alcohol transportation permit that limits alcoholic beverage transportation to 100 liters of wine and 40 liters of liquor. Distilleries will now be able to obtain mixed beverage catering permits that will allow them to provide liquor for events that are catered by hotels or restaurants. Distilleries will also be able to sell mixed beverages at their location whether or not it has been approved by a local election.
H.B. 211 is a technical corrections bill that is following behind H.B. 768 to clarify and expand the areas where customers of restaurants or bars that sell alcoholic beverages can openly enjoy their drinks. This comes as a correction to a 2019 common area entertainment permit that allowed an owner of a multi-tenant establishment that had two bars/restaurants who sold alcoholic beverages to designate a common area where customers can enjoy their drinks.
The Senate amended and passed H.B. 211 Wednesday, and the bill is now being sent back to the house. H.B. 768 will take effect immediately. The state legislature is in a sprint to wrap up bills and adjourn the short session over the weekend.