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General Assembly’s shot at alcohol reform one step closer to law

Legislation seeking to reform Virginia’s predominant mixed beverage license law has made it past the halfway mark in this General Assembly Session and is ready for post-crossover consideration.

SB 1110 (Reeves) and HB 2634 (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 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. 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 moved quickly through the Senate, reporting out of the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee, 11-3, and passing the full Senate, 23-17, on January 23.  HB 2634 reported out of the House General Laws Committee, 16-6, and finally passed the full House 67-30-1 on January 30.  Each bill will now be heard in the appropriate committee in the opposite chamber.

VACo Contact: Chris McDonald, Esq.

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