The ABCs of a Bill Becoming Law (Part One)

As a part of our new series of lawmaker interviews, we sat down with House Bill 890’s primary sponsor, Representative Tim Moffitt, to find out just what the new law does and how the legislation made it across the finish line. Containing more than 30 substantive provisions, this year’s pro-business Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Omnibus Legislation will directly affect nearly everyone in North Carolina who purchases alcohol..

Moffitt, who hails from Henderson County, is the Chairman of the House ABC Committee. It is the only committee in the state legislature that deals exclusively with alcohol policy; it has no Senate counterpart (relevant legislation is heard in the Senate’s Commerce and Insurance Committee).

With North Carolina being one of 17 states where the government has complete control over the manufacture, distribution, transportation, sale, and purchase of alcohol (including beer, wine, and distilled spirits), all alcohol-related policy in our state emanates from the state legislature and originates in the House ABC committee.

Our discussion follows below.

Just a few years ago, changes like those in HB890 would have been highly controversial — yet not one House member even had a question for you on the floor prior to the vote. How was it that HB890 passed so easily?

Although it probably looked that way, nothing we do in Raleigh is ever easy: the trick is to get all your work done beforehand — which hopefully means that every question has already been answered by the time it gets to the floor.

Is that the case with every piece of legislation?

No. Clearly there are some bills that you know — without having to cover it in great detail to your caucus or the opposing caucus — you already know where everybody stands. While those bills get debated on the floor, it’s usually for more political reasons. But for those of us who are more policy driven, who try and bring simple solutions to complex problems, our legislation usually requires more leg work. 

What does that look like?

It’s important to have good relationships with members of your committee, regardless of their party or ideology. I am fortunate to work with an incredibly capable and diverse group of folks on the ABC Committee. They run the gamut of views, from the most conservative members to some of the most liberal.

But most importantly, it means making sure everyone in the process is heard. From an alcohol policy standpoint, my stakeholder group includes everyone: it includes the distillers, it includes the beer and wine wholesalers, it includes the retail merchants, the restaurant and lodging association, and it also includes Reverend Creech with the Christian Action League.

I try to have everyone in the room at the same time so we can develop responsible policy that moves the ball forward in terms of modernizing the ABC system in our state without sacrificing the integrity of the system itself.

With so many divergent perspectives, has it been difficult at times to reach a consensus on how to move forward?

While we might not all be singing the same song, at least we’re all on the same page by the time the committee process wraps up. So once a bill hits the floor, I’d say that if you have any debate at that point then you probably haven’t adequately explained your bill. That, or haven’t taken the time that’s necessary to make sure that your colleagues, regardless of what side of the aisle they sit on, understand what you are trying to accomplish.

How would you characterize what you are trying to accomplish with HB890?

My focus, at least at this point, is modernizing North Carolina’s antiquated ABC system in order to make it more efficient, more flexible, and more consumer-friendly in what has become an increasingly dynamic market.

How does privatization figure into all this?

From my perspective as a free-market, personal responsibility kind of guy, the conversation regarding privatization certainly makes sense. Those things are very important from a conservative standpoint; it’s important to adhere to the basic foundational principles of who we are and not allow certain reservations regarding alcohol to be treated differently.

But that said, the ABC system, which dates back a century to the Prohibition era, is probably North Carolina’s most tangled Gordian knot in terms of its complexity and intractability. Over the decades, your local governments have become very reliant on the proceeds generated by their local ABC boards. Trying to unwind that becomes very complicated — because it’s a substantial amount of money that flows directly from your local ABC store into your local community. You’d have to find a way to offset that loss to local governments.

Did the recent hearing you held on the liquor shortages across the state affect your view on privatizing the ABC system?

Let’s just say everything is on the table.

Part two of our exclusive interview with Representative Moffitt will explore the many provisions of House Bill 890.

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