The latest effort to legalize the sale of wine in Tennessee grocery stores appears stalled at the starting gate, but the sponsor insists that it’s only a matter of time until the effort is successful.
Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, on Jan. 26 filed HB2874, which would allow sales of wine in supermarkets or groceries in any jurisdiction where voters approved in a local referendum. But no companion bill was filed in the Senate and the deadline for doing so has passed, meaning the measure cannot become law.
Bills to simply grant a general state authorization for sale of wine in grocery stores in cities that already authorize liquor-by-the-drink sales have failed repeatedly in recent years in the face of strong opposition from owners of stores now licensed to sell liquor and wine.
Lundberg said in an interview that he was unaware that no senator had sponsored the new referendum measure, which he thought could have a better chance of passage than earlier efforts.
“Who could be against letting people vote?” he asked.
Not surprisingly, David McMahan, lobbyist for the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association, is against the proposal. He deemed it “worse than the original.”
He predicted that leaving sales to local referendums would mean “the Wal-Marts, Costcos and other big box stores” would spend large sums of money in local campaigns to “spread misinformation.”
The decision is best left to legislators, he said, adding: “There’s a reason we have a representative form of government.”
Told of McMahan’s comments, Lundberg expressed disbelief.
“The liquor industry is complaining it would be outspent? That’s funny,” he said.
The lawmaker said the lack of a Senate sponsor does not necessarily kill the bill because measures filed last session can be brought forward again this year and amended. Lundberg said he is eager to push legislation to expand wine sales locations, either in original form or in a bill authorizing local referendums.
“It’s a good business bill. It keeps people buying things in Tennessee instead of going out of state,” he said. “I think it (legislative approval) is inevitable — if not this year, then next year or the year after that.”
McMahan said he believes a law passed last session that allows Tennesseans to order shipments of wine from outside the state provides the “ultimate in convenience” for consumers and lessened any need for allowing wine in supermarkets. While more than 30 other states allow wine sales in groceries, he said no state has been added to the list in about 25 years.
Jarron Springer of the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Stores Association, who has led lobbying efforts for passage of the legislation, did not return a reporter’s calls for comment..