Proposed ‘brunch bill’ could allow alcohol sales before noon on Sunday in North Carolina

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RALEIGH — A long standing ban on alcohol sales before noon on Sundays in North Carolina could be lifted.

A bill filed in the North Carolina Senate aims to make changes to one of the state’s “blue laws.”  Bi-partisan legislation as part of Senate Bill 155 (S155) would give counties and cities the ability to adopt an ordinance allowing restaurants to sell adult beverages for on-premises consumption at 10 a.m. on Sundays.

While ABC stores would remain closed on Sundays, prohibiting private purchase of spirits, the ability to purchase beer and wine at retail stores would remain the same, beginning at noon.

A long standing law on alcohol sales before noon on Sundays could be lifted in the state. Photo courtesy- Ray Baca.
A long standing law on alcohol sales before noon on Sundays could be lifted in North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of Ray Baca)

Under North Carolina General Statute 18B-1004(c), it is illegal to buy any alcohol or to drink alcohol at bar between closing time early Sunday morning and noontime Sunday. With dozens of local spots entertaining brunch crowds, it could be an added boost for business.

The North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association (NCRLA) is behind the efforts of Republican and Democrat co-sponsors, including Republican Sen. Rick Gunn, of Burlington, Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat, and Republican Sen. Kathy Harrington, of Gastonia.

“This ‘brunch bill’ will allow our North Carolina restaurants and hotels to meet their guest’s needs,” NCRLA President and CEO Lynn Minges said. “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.”

After being passed in the North Carolina Senate on its first-reading, S155 was referred to committee on rules and operations. As part of new procedures enacted at the state level regarding how bills are read and reviewed, S155 is likely a longshot to be passed in its current form, during this session, according to State Sen. Michael Lee, who represents New Hanover County.

What are North Carolina’s so-called Blue laws?

Originally intended to encourage church attendance when first enacted, “blue laws” date back to the 1600s. North Carolina’s blue laws began in 1716, with the passage of the Sabbath Observance Act.

Local establishments believe the ability to sell alcohol before noon Sundays could help their bottom line.
Local establishments believe the ability to sell alcohol before noon Sundays could help their bottom line.

Now in 2017, Lee is leaning toward allowing business to operate more freely, but is hesitant to declare a true change in times, at least when referring to the two-hour time period giving restaurants the ability to sell alcohol before noon on Sunday.

“I’m a co-sponsor of SB155 and think it’s important to our area,” Lee said. “The bill is narrowly crafted regarding alcohol sales, but you’d be surprised how difficult this is going to be.”

Lee also stated much of the backing for the so-called “brunch bill” has come from legislators who represent metropolitan areas in the state, based on revenue businesses would potentially gain in city-like settings.

Currently, 12 states still have some type of alcohol-based laws on the books. They include: North Carolina, Alabama, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.