By Peggy Mackenzie
The so called Brunch Bill (SB 298) was completed by the West Virginia Legislature on Saturday during the last day of the 2016 session, and will allow bars, restaurants and wineries to serve alcohol at 10 a.m. on Sundays, removing a long-standing ban on alcohol sales at restaurants before 1 p.m., which is currently the law. Supporters say the legislation would create jobs, increase state revenue and would improve the overall tourism experience for those visiting West Virginia.
The legislation comes with a hitch: the House included an amendment stipulating that individual counties would have to put the measure to a public vote. The Senate and House versions of the bill differ significantly because the Senate did not include the House’s county referendum requirement. The bill is set to go back to the Senate for approval and then to the governor for his signature.
“Counties are not compelled to hold the election,” said Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha. County commissions in each of the state’s 55 counties can opt to place the issue on the November ballot, provided they meet the Sept. 30 deadline.
Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, stated, “As a state, we must do all that we can to allow businesses and tourist attractions to operate in a competitive manner and not restrain their ability in the marketplace.” His urgency to pass the law is due to similar laws allowing early sales on Sundays have passed in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and counties and cities in Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky.
In recent years, the House has killed off other versions of brunch bills despite overwhelming support from the tourism and hospitality industries. The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce estimates that allowing earlier Sunday alcohol sales could lead to $20 million in additional economic activity in the state. Snowshoe Mountain Resort, in Pocahontas County, predicts that the bill could spur a $500,000 increase in annual sales. The Greenbrier resort also expects to benefit.
Those counties participating in the referendum vote will have a voice in this issue. Those counties that opt not to participate will not have the Brunch Bill option on the November ballot.
When asked about the disposition of the Greenbrier County Commission on the Brunch Bill, Commission member Lowell Rose, speaking for himself, said there did not seem to be much push for the three hour shift to permit Sunday morning alcohol sales in Greenbrier County, but, he added, the other commissioners have until Sept. 30 to make a case for voters to have a voice on the Brunch Bill.