ABC reform bills inch closer to law

February 12, 2019

Bills authorizing the sale of mixed beverages by licensed restaurants and the sale of alcoholic beverages in any county, town, or supervisor’s election district have continue to move ever closer to law, as each has now cleared the latest hurdle in their journey through the 2019 General Assembly session.

If passed and signed into law, SB 1110 (Reeves) and HB 2634 (Hurst) would allow the sale of mixed beverages by licensed restaurants and the sale of alcoholic beverages by the Board of Directors of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority in any county, town, or supervisor’s election district unless a referendum is held, and a majority of votes prohibit such sales.  Today, state law prohibits such sales in a locality unless they have been approved through a local referendum process. These bills would essentially flip a presumption of “dry” to “wet,” while still affording localities the chance to hold a referendum to remain “dry.”

The legislation includes a grandfathering provision that allows the granting of a mixed beverage license to any specific establishment that was in effect prior to the effective date of this bill, notwithstanding the provisions of the bills related to local referendums but subject to other applicable laws and regulations. The legislation also provides that the result of any referendum held prior to the effective date of the bill shall remain valid and enforceable. Finally, the bills have a delayed effective date of July 1, 2020, to allow localities a full year to adapt to the new law or make plans for a referendum.

SB 1110 progressed through committees in each chamber with breakneck speed, passing the Senate 23-17 on January 23 and the House 66-32 on February 8.  HB 2634 has moved slower but has been similarly successful, passing the House 67-30-1 on January 30.  HB 2634 was referred to the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee, where it reported 12-3. It will now be up for final vote on the Senate floor on February 13.

VACo Contact: Chris McDonald, Esq.

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