Alcohol reform bills head to Governor’s desk

February 19, 2019

Pending a final signature from the Governor, Virginia is poised to hop back off the wagon.  Two 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 passed the House and Senate and now await action from the Governor.

SB 1110 (Reeves) and HB 2634 (Hurst) 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 for a period of five years. 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.

Currently, there are nine remaining dry counties in Virginia: Bland, Buchanan, Charlotte, Craig, Grayson, Highland, Lee, Patrick and Russell. The Code of Virginia has become rife with special exceptions for specific establishments, and current law does allow for alcohol referendums to be held for specific magisterial districts, so beyond these nine totally dry counties, portions of an additional 31 counties are also dry.

VACo Contact: Chris McDonald, Esq.

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