The South Carolina Supreme Court last year ruled South Carolina’s limit of three liquor stores per owner was unconstitutional. Now time is running out for legislators to make changes based on the court’s ruling.
The state House passed a bill last month that would essentially reinstate the limit. The Senate has yet to take it up, however.
For some lawmakers, the reasoning behind keeping the limit at three stores per ownership is to protect small independent owners from the big box retail and chain stores.
State Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry, told his Senate colleagues Thursday on the floor of the chamber that time is running out for them to act. South Carolina has been operating under a temporary compromise which keeps the old law in place until April so that those involved in the industry could come up with a new law. However, those efforts have not been fruitful.
“April 5th is the day we… decided that we were going to give these groups the effort and time to solve their own debate,” Rankin said. “With the growing sense of frustration and the growing sense urgency, you all have been asked to do something.”
Total Wine & More sued the state over the previous law after the Department of Revenue blocked the company’s efforts to build a fourth store in Aiken. Total Wine has existing stores in Charleston, Columbia and Greenville.
The Supreme Court ruled in a 3-1 decision the state constitution explicitly grants broad authority to regulate liquor only in matters of “police power,” while the specific regulation was only done to protect existing small or medium-sized businesses.
If the Senate does agree with the House’s version that keeps the ownership limit at three, the question of its constitutionality could end up right back in court once again.