A ruling last year from the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the state’s limit of three liquor stores per owner. But the ruling’s impact has been on hold until April 5 while lawmakers try to find a new way to prevent large national chains from getting a large foothold against the smaller businesses which dot the state.
The state House passed a bill which attempts to keep the limit, effectively ignoring the court’s ruling.
After a marathon nearly nine-hour session Wednesday, the Senate came up with a complex plan which sets limits for small owners and corporate big box stores based on a county’s population — specifically whether it is under or over 250,000 people.
State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, complained there is no limit on ownership by one entity of stores that sell beer. “Beer will get you drunk just like liquor will. How can there could there possibly be, other than an economic protection argument, any sound basis for saying that we’re going to restrict you to only three liquor stores, but you can own 300 beer stores? That doesn’t make any sense.”
For some lawmakers, the reasoning behind keeping the limit at three stores per ownership is to protect the small independent owners from the big boxes and chain stores.
The compromise approved on Wednesday would raise the overall store limit to six per owner. However, that owner could not have more than three stores unless they are in counties with more than 250,000 residents. Only seven counties in South Carolina (Charleston, Greenville, Horry, Lexington, Richland, Spartanburg and York) would reach that threshold.
Any owners already existing in those smaller counties could be grandfathered in to a 5-store limit.
The Senate’s plan would phase in the new ownership requirements.
The Senate proposal will have to be reconciled with the House then signed into law by the governor.