HUNTINGTON — If anyone was celebrating as the 2021 West Virginia legislative session wrapped up, it was Jeff McKay.
The Huntington business owner has been an advocate for changing the state’s alcohol laws so breweries like his can have a better chance to succeed. This year, with the passage of House Bill 2025, McKay said that better chance is becoming a reality.
“I feel momentum coming out of the pandemic,” McKay said. “With these provisions, it will open up a lot of opportunities for suppliers and the consumer. I feel the momentum within the Legislature to help bars and restaurants after I feel we’ve been typically ignored.”
The sweeping legislation makes numerous changes to the alcohol laws, many following emergency changes made so bars and restaurants could survive the pandemic. Changes include permitting:
- Carry-out cocktails, wine and beer from bars and restaurants;
- Curbside delivery of alcohol;
- Home delivery of alcohol from bars, restaurants and retail stores;
- Drive-thru sales of sealed liquor bottles for bars, restaurants and retail;
- Direct-to-consumer shipping of liquor and beer from distilleries and breweries;
- Third-party deliveries (like Grubhub);
- Batched and dispensed cocktails; and
- Wine and cider growlers.
The bill reduces license and permit fees and removes some regulations on outdoor dining. Alcohol sales will be permitted at 6 a.m. versus the current 7 a.m.
McKay said it is the most important piece of legislation for the service industry in years.
On the floor the last night of the session, Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, said the bill was among the most important pieces of legislation they passed this year. But others in his party did not agree.
Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, opposed the bill throughout the session, saying it went too far to promote consumption of alcohol. Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason, called the bill a “can of worms.”
Delegate John Mandt, R-Cabell, a local restaurant owner, said he opposed the bill because it permits 16-year-olds to serve alcohol if they are under supervision of an adult. Currently, a 16-year-old working at Kroger, for example, is not permitted to ring up alcohol on their own.
Mandt said he didn’t think 16-year-olds were responsible enough for the task.
Proponents of the bill said it would help the service industry recover from the pandemic and help them compete with bordering states. For example, wine tasting will be permitted, allowing the southeastern part of the state to compete with the Virginia wine country.
“Traditionally, Republicans have been against these things. We’ve run up against a brick wall in the past years with just some of the trivial provisions in this bill,” McKay said. “But the pandemic made some of these wounds in the industry apparent to everyone else. I don’t think people realized what we had been going through the past decade under these restrictions. … The state also came down hard on some bars and restaurants [during the pandemic], without being delicate about it. That alone opened a lot of eyes.”
Steele, at one point in debate on the bill, called it a “freedom bill.”
McKay said there are still things that need to be cleaned up, such as the direct shipping regulations that he fears will be too costly for distributors, but he is hopeful the momentum will continue into next session.
The bill is effective May 10 if signed by Gov. Jim Justice.