NASHVILLE – A bill clearing the way for sale of wine and grocery stores was killed in a House committee Tuesday, shattering hopes of proponents who had thought they were on the verge of breaking a six-year run of defeats.
Eight members of the House Local Government Committee voted against HB610 while just seven voted for it. The sponsor, Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, had asked that the vote be postponed a week, but his request was rejected after Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, said members “should hear it and make a decision today.”
The bill, in a change from most versions of the bill in prior years, did not directly allow wine in grocery stores. Instead, it let any city council or county commission – where liquor-by-the-drink is now legal – to schedule hold a local referendum on whether to expand wine sales to convenience stores and supermarkets.
Currently, only liquor stores can sell wine and they are forbidden to sell anything other than alcoholic beverages. Multiple amendments had been filed – 10 in the House committee – and most would have granted new rights to liquor stores faced with new competition. The amendments included proposals to allow sale of other products in liquor stores, to allow them to open on Sundays and holidays and to allow the same person to own more than one liquor store.
The state’s beer wholesaler lobby, which had been opposed to the bill, had agreed to support the measure if it was amended to allow supermarkets to sell high-alcohol beer along with wine. Now only liquor stores can sell high-alcohol beer.
Amendments had also been discussed in the Senate Finance Committee earlier Tuesday. The panel wound up putting off its vote for a week to try fashioning an amendment package that would ease opposition from liquor store operators.
As it turned out, all the maneuverings were probably mooted by the House committee vote. Lundberg said there “potentially” could be an effort to take another bill, amend it to cover wine in groceries and try again.
One member of the Local Government Committee, Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, was absent at Tuesday’s meeting. House Speaker Beth Harwell, who cast a tie-breaking vote to save the bill in subcommittee a week earlier, was on hand in case a tie developed again. Harwell said afterward that she was disappointed with the vote, but accepts it.
Voting against the bill were Reps. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville; Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson; Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga; Steve Hall, R-Knoxville; Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough; Andy Holt, R-Dresden; Larry Miller, D-Memphis; Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna.
Voting for the bill were Reps. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas; Vince Dean, R-East Ridge; Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin; Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby; Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville; Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis; and Mike Stewart, D-Nashville.
Hill had voted for the bill in subcommittee a week earlier and had joined Lundberg in urging the vote be postponed for a week, saying doing so was a “common courtesy” usually afforded to a bill’s sponsor. But the panel’s majority refused the delay request and moved on to vote down the measure.
Hill said he had voted for the bill in subcommittee – even though thinking it a “bad bill” as written — in the belief it would have a full discussion in the full committee, including consideration of amendments. As it turned out, one of the bill’s supporters, Stewart, made a motion to shut off debate and vote immediately – apparently in the belief that the bill had enough support to at least get a tie vote, allowing Harwell to decide the matter.
Stewart’s motion passed and committee then voted without any debate and without bringing up any of the amendments for consideration.
“Some of those amendments made me much more comfortable with the legislation,” said Hill. “It was wrong to cut off debate… It just seemed extremely disorganized on both side.”
In general, proponents of the bill contended it would be a convenience to consumers, increase state revenue through increased wine sales and promote competition.
Opponents contended it would be unfair to change the legal rules for liquor store owners, who operate as a small business. Others, including some ministers, argued that the bill would make alcohol more available and increase societal ills that come with drinking