This week from Charleston
One of the most difficult-to-explain failures of this legislative session was the loss of the “Brunch Bill.” The bill, a version of which I first introduced in 2013, would allow restaurants to serve alcohol on Sunday as early as 10 a.m. Current law prevents the service of alcohol until 1 p.m. on Sundays. It also prevents the sale of wine and beer before 1 p.m, and completely prohibits all Sunday retail liquor sales, including on-site sales at micro-distilleries like Bloomery. As I have written before, this small change in the law could have a significant impact in the hospitality industry, particularly in tourist destinations like Jefferson County where visitors often want to have a drink with their brunch or visit the Bloomery Distillery on Sunday afternoon. One local restaurant estimates that it would create one new job at that restaurant. That may not sound like a lot, but that is at just one restaurant! During the statewide listening tour conducted by the House Small Business and Entrepreneurship committee last year, this issue came up across the state and not just in the Eastern Panhandle.
Last year, in the 2014 session, the bill passed both the House and the Senate with bipartisan support, but died on the last night because the versions had not been rectified. This failure was extremely disappointing to many, and passage this year seemed like it would be an easy task. This year, the bill again sailed through the Senate with bipartisan support, but was held up in the House. My understanding is that the House majority leadership did not want the bill this year due to the fact it dealt with service of alcohol on Sundays. While I believe there are still more than enough votes to pass the bill in the House, if the leadership wants to stop a bill, it generally can. It should be noted that possible consideration of the brunch bill came after the social conservatism of the House leadership was tested with two other alcohol related bills: the distillery and craft brewery bills, which both passed.
While the passage of the distillery reforms bill this year will have a significant impact on places like Bloomery, we need to continue the reform. It is difficult to explain to small businesses across West Virginia who cater to tourists from DC and elsewhere that we did not get the law changed this year. Right now, the only answer I have is that social conservatism is holding us back. In so many ways, this state must hurry to adapt to a new diversified economy. We cannot hide our heads in the sand and simply hope that the state’s economy and budget will flourish once coal regains its footing. That’s not a realistic way to plan. Right now, we need pragmatic, nonpolitical solutions to free up small businesses. This bill is one small solution. Here’s to next year.