Legislation to extensively liberalize regulations for beer, wine and liquor sales passed the West Virginia House of Delegates on an 80-18 vote Wednesday.
Proponents of House Bill 2025 touted it as an economic development initiative, saying it will allow craft breweries, wineries and boutique distilleries to compete with out-of-state rivals.
Critics, however, said provisions allowing earlier morning sales of alcohol, expanding home delivery of alcohol and legalizing the sale of wine and craft cocktail growlers will fuel alcoholism in the state.
“That’s a good time to start consuming alcohol, at 6 a.m.,” Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, said of a provision that would allow sales of alcohol to begin at that hour on Mondays through Saturdays, instead of 7 a.m. in existing law.
Also, counties with a Sunday option could begin serving alcohol for brunches at 6 a.m., instead of the current 10 a.m.
Much of the Justice administration bill would make many relaxations of beer, wine and liquor regulations adopted by executive order during the pandemic permanent changes to the law. Those include provisions permitting home delivery of alcoholic beverages, and allowing bars and restaurants to serve alcoholic beverages in outdoor dining areas.
Delegate Wayne Clark, R-Jefferson, said those provisions were “life-saving” for many bars and restaurants statewide during the pandemic.
“The history of West Virginia has often been paralyzed by the fear of ‘what ifs?’,” he said in endorsing the liquor law revisions. Clark owns a golf course in the Eastern Panhandle, with a clubhouse licensed to serve liquor.
The bill also includes measures designed to encourage development of craft breweries, wineries and distilleries, including slashing costs of licenses and fees. It also encourages investment in the manufacturing of hard cider using state-grown fruit.
Clark noted that neighboring Loudoun County, Virginia, has more than 40 craft breweries, while the entire state of West Virginia has fewer than 30 craft breweries and distilleries combined.
Delegate John Williams, D-Monongalia, said the bill was one of two advanced by the House on Wednesday that will encourage economic development, along with a bill to encourage expansion of broadband internet statewide (HB 2002).
“As a millennial, this is a good day for me serving in the House,” he said.
Conversely, Delegate Jonathan Pinson, R-Mason, dismissed HB 2025 as 110 pages of legislation devoted to expanding the availability and accessibility of alcohol in the state.
“Unfortunately, this House has passed so many alcohol bills in the past six years, it’s unbelievable,” Fast said. “But this one takes the cake.”
The bill now goes to the Senate.