Legislators will have to work swiftly next month to fix an unintended ban on temporary alcohol licenses for festivals and special events.

Near the end of the session last year, the General Assembly wanted to allow nonprofits to apply for these permits. But, instead of amending the existing law to add nonprofits to the private businesses already allowed these permits, the assembly replaced the existing law altogether, thus limiting these permits only to nonprofits.

The change, which will take effect Jan. 1, was announced by the Department of Revenue in late November and first reported in the Columbia Free Times. Many venues have their own long-term permits that would exempt many special events. Festivals like Coast Brewing and Charleston Beer Exchange’s Brewvival could be impacted if the law isn’t fixed.

Jaime Tenney, one of the owners of Coast, says she’s spoken with frequent legislative advocate Rep. Bill Herbkersman (R-Bluffton), and he’s told her not to worry.

“So, I’m trying not to,” she says, noting the implications should drive action swiftly in Columbia. “This is such a large issue that affects so many different groups.”

State Sen. Chip Campsen (R-Charleston) has already introduced legislation to fix the mistake. His language would replace specific references to “nonprofit organizations” with the more general reference, “applicant.” A companions bill has been introduced in the House, cosponsored by local Rep. Chip Limehouse (R-Charleston). Both will first need to be vetted by their respective Judiciary Committees.

For the short term, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Harrison (R-Richland) says he’ll introduce a joint resolution that could swiftly pass both bodies, instructing the Revenue Department to ignore the new nonprofit stipulation.

But even that action will have to wait until the legislature reconvenes on Jan. 11, pushing any redress to the permit ban to the end of January, at best.

It’s easy to see how this happened: Writing laws is an imperfect science. Sometimes simple mistakes happen, and sometimes bills are altered between inception and approval without a detailed review.

For instance, South Carolina has had a ban on presidential write-in votes since 1982. When City Paper asked the bill’s author, Tom Huff, his reasoning, the former state legislator and now appeals court judge was stumped at how the language made it into his bill on broader ballot reforms.

“I really don’t remember it,” he said, noting it was possibly added by someone else through the legislative process.

In the case of the permit ban, the mistake was likely due to last-minute changes and not malice, says Harrison.

“We created a little problem we need to rectify,” he says.

Teaser photo by flickr user apol3