Grocery store wine bill passes key vote

Grocery store wine bill passes key vote

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House Local Subcommittee members approved the bill 5-4. House Local Subcommittee members approved the bill 5-4.

By SAMANTHA MANNING
6 News Reporter

NASHVILLE (WATE) - A bill to allow supermarkets and convenience stores to sell wine was approved Wednesday by a House subcommittee in a close vote.

House Local Subcommittee members approved the bill 5-4.

The deciding vote was cast by House Speaker Beth Harwell.

The speaker is allowed to cast a vote in any committee, but rarely does so.

Her vote angered liquor store owners gathered in a hallway outside the committee room.

The approval of the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol came after a motion was made to defer it from taking effect to July 2014.

Rep. Lundberg told the subcommittee members voters should be allowed to decide sooner than that.

The motion failed by the same 5-4 margin.

The attempt to push back the start of the law is a tactic lawmakers have used in the past, Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Stores Association President Jarron Springer noted.

"That's kind of an old school tactic around here and I think the time's come where we're dealing with Tennesseans and their right to vote," Springer said.

Rep. Steve Hall, of Knoxville, voted against the bill. He says he worries what it could do to small business owners.

"There are a lot of small businesses that have made a tremendous investment in the community, locally-owned businesses too and I don't think we should arbitrarily disregard their investment," Rep. Hall said.

Hall added that despite statewide polls showing most Tennesseans support allowing grocery stores to sell wine, many people in his district tell him they're against it.

A companion bill cleared its first Senate committee last week, also by a single vote.

Chip Christianson, with the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailer Association, says his organization doesn't plan to back down even after these two losses.

"Any clear thinking person out there is going to understand that if there's more high proof alcohol out there there's going to be more problems caused by high proof alcohol," Christianson said.

"I would love to see the statistics that show that," Springer responded. "When you talk about
wine in food stores, there's no statistics that show wine in a food store equals negative effects to society."

Liquor store owners say for now they have no interest in compromises either. They say they don't want longer business hours and don't want to have to sell other items like snacks or cigarettes.

"We don't think Sunday sales are a good thing for Tennessee so if we wanted more hours we would've asked for more hours some time ago," Christianson said.

Right now they're hoping the bill will be stopped in its next vote. The bill now goes to the full House State and Local Government Committee. It also needs to make it through the Senate and House Finance committees before getting floor votes.

If passed by the full House and Senate and then signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, the bill would not automatically allow wine sales in grocery stores.

Cities and counties that allow liquor by the drink would have to first hold referendums.

Opponents fighting the bill have argued it would negatively affect existing liquor stores. Under current law liquor stores have exclusive license to sell wine.

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