N.C. House Bill 94 was filed on Feb. 13 to reintroduce happy hour — which has been outlawed since 1985 in the state over concerns about drunk driving.
Happy hour is a specific time of the day when a bar or restaurant sells alcoholic drinks at reduced prices.
The bill has strong bipartisan support. The primary sponsors of the bill are N.C. Reps. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), Allison Dahle (D-Wake), David Willis (R-Union) and Zack Hawkins (D-Durham).
Restaurants and bars will have to purchase a $100 permit to be able to sell drinks at a discount. This includes selling a person two or more drinks for a single price and would also allow businesses to offer food and an alcoholic beverage at one set price.
This permit will also allow bars or restaurants to advertise their beverage prices on signs outside the premises and in newspapers, television, radio and other forms of mass media.
The bill passed its first reading on Feb. 14. Before being voted on in the N.C. House, H.B. 94 will have to pass three committees, including the Committee on Alcoholic Beverage Control and the rules committee.
Hawkins said he believes the bill will pass in the N.C. House.
"The world has changed tremendously since 1985," Hawkins said. "And I think the opportunity to allow for community building and allow for economic opportunity is going to be a really good thing."
Hawkins said laws outlawing happy hour need to be repealed and that H.B. 94 will generate revenue for small businesses like restaurants and bars.
Gary Crunkleton, owner of The Crunkleton, a bar on Franklin Street, said he has concerns over the introduction of the bill.
Crunkleton said even though his staff works hard to not over-serve anyone with alcoholic drinks, liability issues are always a concern. He said he appreciates that the bill is being discussed and debated, rather than a total lack of legislation on alcohol.
Crunkleton also said he thinks drunk driving would be a concern if H.B. 94 is passed.
"I think North Carolina benefits from alcohol sales and controlling those sales," Crunkleton said.
North Carolina is currently a controlled state, meaning the state government controls the wholesale distribution of alcohol. Open states allow private businesses to sell and buy alcohol, while still following state alcohol laws.
There are currently 17 controlled states, including N.C., and 33 open states.
N.C. is also one of the eight states that do not allow happy hours.
Alcohol laws in the state are enforced by Alcohol Law Enforcement, a division of the N.C. Department of Public Safety. Special agents in ALE are able to investigate, arrest and take enforcement action on alcohol-related crimes throughout the entire state.
Kristian Bawcom, the owner of Franklin Street restaurant and bar Four Corners, is a proponent of the bill. Bawcom said H.B. 94 allows businesses to attract different crowds at different times of the day.
"I think that it's a good opportunity for restaurants and bars to try and go ahead and create some more business for themselves," Bawcom said.
House Bill 1135, the same bill as H.B. 94, was introduced in May 2022, but it stalled in the alcoholic beverage control committee.
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