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Commonwealth's Counties

Alcohol Beverage Control reform bills advance

SB 1110 (Reeves) and HB 2634 (Hurst), which seek to reform one of Virginia’s foremost alcohol beverage control laws, have each advanced in their respective chambers.  The bills, introduced by Senator Bryce Reeves and Delegate Chris Hurst, seek to 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 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.  State code 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.

SB 1110 (Reeves) was referred to the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee and reported out by a 11-3 vote.  Senator Bill DeSteph, Senator Monty Mason, Senator Jeremy McPike, and Senator Lionell Spruill have signed on as co-patrons. SB 1110 passed the Senate on January 23 by a 23-17 vote and will now head to the House for consideration.

HB 2634 (Hurst) was referred to the House General Laws Committee’s Subcommittee #3, which heard the bill on January 22 and recommended reporting by a 8-0 vote.  HB 2634 will now be heard by the full Committee.

VACo Contact: Chris McDonald, Esq.

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