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Senators advance bill letting curbside alcohol sales continue in SC, but delivery a no-go

Alcohol Pick Up (copy)

The drive-thru pickup area outside the James Island Harris Teeter tells customers what they have to do to pick up beer or wine in January 2020. Legislators are considering a bill allowing alcohol to be delivered. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

COLUMBIA — South Carolinians could continue paying for wine and beer curbside after the pandemic's over under legislation sent to the Senate floor. 

But the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected allowing home delivery of alcohol, with some senators disagreeing over whether to limit the delivery drive — as a way to protect mom-and-pop operations from losing business to Amazon or giant retailers — or add liquor to the alcohol options to let those stores benefit, too.

Others simply opposed the idea of making it easier to get drunk.

"Curbside I get. That doesn’t give me huge heartburn," state Sen. Dick Harpootliansaid during the May 4 debate.

But the Columbia Democrat, who has made it his mission to clean up the college party scene in Five Points, pledged to block enabling alcohol delivery, saying it's impossible for anyone to enforce the bill's limitations. Those include checking on arrival that the customer's old enough to drink legally and banning delivery to college dorms and campuses. 

A proposal to add home delivery to the curbside bill failed 9-14. The committee then opted to postpone action on a separate bill dealing with delivery only.

But the committee did vote overwhelmingly to permanently allow curbside pickup of unopened beer and wine. That's been an option since March 2020 when Gov. Henry McMaster suspended state law that bars alcohol sales to anyone in a vehicle.

The temporary waiver was seen as a way to help restaurants stay afloat with pickup meals, without requiring customers to go inside to pay, arguably contradicting social distancing rules that forced them to close their dining rooms in the first place.

A year later, South Carolinians have gotten accustomed to the convenience. But the ability to pay curbside will end whenever McMaster officially declares the pandemic emergency over, unless legislators change state law first.

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Similar legislation proposed before the pandemic failed, and several senators complained McMaster overstepped his legal authority in lifting the prohibition. But they don't want to take the option away either.   

"I think we ought to get it done to allow it to continue," said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield. "I have no problem with what’s being done, but the fact we’re debating" changing state law means it requires legislative approval. 

The bill requires businesses licensed to sell beer and wine, including grocery stores and restaurants, to designate curbside spots. It specifically bars drive-thru payments and curbside liquor sales. And the alcohol must be sold sealed. 

Senate Judiciary Chairman Luke Rankin, R-Conway, said he wants to also prohibit selling alcohol cold, making the temptation of opening a beverage after driving away less appealing. He intends to offer that change during floor debate.

"If we add a chilling of the desire and the beverage, that would help me," he said. 

Just five days remain in the regular legislative session. The House approved the curbside bill 99-14 in March. 

The House also approved the alcohol delivery bill overwhelmingly in March. But that measure is almost certainly dead for the year. The Senate Judiciary Committee does not plan to meet again before the regular session ends. 

Follow Seanna Adcox on Twitter at @seannaadcox_pc.

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