Commissioners cool to alcohol with Sunday brunch

By Bob Shiles -

Raymond Cummings

LUMBERTON — A state bill that would allow alcoholic beverages to be served in restaurants as early as 10 a.m. on Sundays is getting roasted, not toasted, by Robeson County commissioners who would have the say-so on whether that would be allowed locally.

Senate Bill 155 would allow the sell of alcoholic drinks in restaurants on Sundays before noon, but would not allow beer or wine to be sold in grocery stores and other retail outlets until at least noon on Sundays.

The bill’s primary sponsors are Republican Sens. Rick Gunn, of Burlington, and Kathy Harrington, of Gastonia, and Sen. Dan Blue, a Democrat from Raleigh and the Senate minority leader.

Even if the bill is approved in both General Assembly chambers and gets Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature, a provision in the bill mandates that it can’t become local law unless it is approved by local governments.

Three county commissioners interviewed for this story didn’t sound sold on the idea of alcohol being mixed with Sunday morning diners, many of whom probably just left church.

“I have some strong concerns about this bill,” said Raymond Cummings, vice chairman of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners. “I haven’t read the bill, but from what I understand about it I wouldn’t favor it at this time.”

Commissioner Jerry Stephens said he can’t see any reason for SB 155 to even be considered.

“No one needs to be drinking that early in the day,” Stephens said. “I need to read the bill, but I am probably going to vote against it.”

Commissioner David Edge said he doesn’t see the need to begin the sale of alcoholic drinks so early on Sunday mornings.

“Myself, I don’t drink,” he said. “I don’t have anything against those who do, but I just don’t see a need to be drinking at 10 in the morning.

“I don’t think I would vote for this.”

There are eight members of the Board of the Commissioners, meaning only two more would need to be in opposition to deny Sunday morning alcohol sales in Robeson County.

Bill supporters tout it as a means of economic development and tourism growth.

The N.C. Restaurant & Lodging Association supports the proposal, according to The News and Observer newspaper in Raleigh. But the conservative Christian Action League’s director, the Rev. Mark Creech, is against adding extra hours for alcohol sales because he says doing so would lead to more car accidents and other public health problems.

State Rep. Charles Graham said last week that he would probably vote against the bill if it ever reaches the floor of the House.

“I think my constituents would be offended by this. They want people in church,” Graham said. “I understand the need for economic development and to promote business, but I don’t think this is the kind of legislation we need.”

Robeson County has historically been conservative in allowing alcohol sales. For years, many local municipalities didn’t even allow the sale of liquor, meaning county residents would have to drive to an ABC store located in another town.

In the late 1990s, legislation was approved in the General Assembly that allowed the sale of mixed drinks at restaurants along the Interstate 95 corridor, which proponents pushed as a way to promote economic growth by luring hotels and restaurants. The legislation was deemed illegal because it was considered “spot zoning,” and Lumberton voters in a referendum allowed citywide sales.

Growth followed with the arrival of restaurants such as Outback, Ruby Tuesday and Texas Steakhouse, which were followed by hotels.

Opponents argued that mixed drink sales would lead to more DUI’s and strip clubs, but that has not happened.

Raymond Cummings Cummings

By Bob Shiles

Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.

Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.

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