Category Archives: alcoholic beverages

Open container bill continues multi-year losing streak

State Rep. Jon Lundberg’s latest attempt to to pass a so-called “Pass The Bottle” bill failed in the House State Government Subcommittee on Wednesday, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

The bill (HB1658) would have revised present law governing open containers of alcoholic beverages or beer in a motor vehicle.

Lundberg, R-Bristol, told subcommittee lawmakers he finds it difficult to explain to constituents why his bill always fails.

“It is legal to drive in a car and have an open container of alcohol as a passenger and even pass a state trooper,” Lundberg said. “This is called the ‘Pass The Bottle’ bill because what happens is the driver is drinking and just passes the bottle to the passenger and there’s no fine.”

…Over the last five years, said Lundberg, Tennessee has lost $100 million in federal funds because state lawmakers have not passed his legislation.

“Should people drink in a car? No,” Lundberg said. “If we’re going to talk about a gas tax (increase) and vote on it, we need every penny and every dollar we’ve got to use on roads and bridges.”

Subcommittee Chairman Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, openly disagreed with Lundberg.

“I guess I just have a difference of opinion about (the bill),” Sanderson told Lundberg. “I do not condone drinking and driving … but I do not want to punish the person sitting in the back seat and drinking a glass of wine.”

WIGS fix bill sent back to House sub

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to impose limits on how many liquor stores can be owned in Tennessee has been sent back to a House subcommittee.

The bill (HB2586) sponsored by Republican Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville has pitted Republicans against each other over questions about why package stores should be given special protection from competition by big chains.

The measure, which has already passed the Senate, had been on the verge of a full floor vote. But the House Calendar Committee voted Thursday to return the bill to the House Finance Subcommittee — a panel that had been unusually bypassed earlier this session.

Todd, a close ally of the liquor wholesalers and retailers lobby, insisted that the move isn’t intended to kill the bill.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam opposes the cap.

AG opines on immigrant beer license restriction

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Attorney General’s office has issued an opinion that says a law barring some immigrants from obtaining a beer license is likely unconstitutional.

The opinion issued by Attorney General Herbert Slatery takes aim at a 2015 law that barred people from getting a license to sell beer unless they had been a lawful resident or U.S. citizen for at least a year.

The opinion says the law is unlikely to survive a court challenge because it discriminates against people based on immigration status and where they were born. It also says the law does not appear to serve a compelling state interest.

Lawmakers generally seek an attorney general’s opinion before passing a law.

Republican Rep. Martin Daniel said the city of Knoxville requested that he ask for the opinion.

Note: The full opinion is HERE. The law, now officially Public Chapter 29, was sponsored as HB145 by Rep. Pat Marsh and Sen. Jim Tracy, both Shelbyville Republicans.

Lobbyists get WIGS fix back on track

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A House committee that two weeks ago voted to reject a proposed cap on liquor store ownership in Tennessee reversed course on Tuesday and placed the limits back into the bill headed for a floor vote.

Members of the House Finance Committee previously agreed that imposing the cap on package store ownership would give those businesses protection against market forces that isn’t extended to other sectors of the economy. But under heavy lobbying by liquor store retailers and wholesalers, the members of the panel voted to change their stance.

The vote to reject the creation of a cap on liquor store ownership was 10-9 two weeks ago. The move to restore that that provision was 16-4 on Tuesday.

Republican Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville, the bill’s main sponsor and a close ally of the liquor lobby, said the cap is necessary because owners sell “a dangerous product” that needs tight control.
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Senate approves WIGS fix — with ‘protectionism’

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Efforts to restrict the number of liquor stores that can be owned in Tennessee drew vocal opposition from a Republican lawmaker Monday, who said it is contrary to GOP principles and suggested that supporters may have been “bought and paid for” by lobbying groups.

Republican Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains derided the bill as “pure, cold, hard protectionism” during a Senate floor debate.

“We didn’t tell CVS and Walgreens that they can’t come in and protect the mom-and-pop pharmacies,” he said. “If you’re for protectionism, you’re probably not a Republican.”

“If you’re voting for this bill because some lobbyist contributed heavily to your campaign, you’re bought and paid for,” Niceley said.
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WIGS bill dropped in fight over competition restriction

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A legislative disagreement over protecting liquor stores from competition means Tennesseans looking to buy wine at their local supermarket will likely have to wait a little longer for the shelves to be stocked.

Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, on Tuesday made good on his earlier threats to kill the entire bill if his colleagues stripped a provision that sought to impose a two-store limit for liquor retailers.

Todd said the cap was meant to protect mom-and-pop stores, but opponents argued that the free market should decide winners and losers.

Rep. David Alexander, R-Winchester, noted that in his private retail business he must compete to succeed.

“I have no protections whatsoever in the free market, except how hard I work and how good a job I do,” he said “What’s all this protectionism? I don’t like that. I like that free market.”
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WIGS revision includes ‘anti-competition’ provision

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The operator of a large chain of beer and liquor stores says an effort to cap new retail licenses is an effort to stamp out competition in Tennessee.

The main focus of the bill that advanced out of the House State Government Committee on Tuesday is to let supermarkets stock up ahead of when a law allows them to begin selling wine July 1. But the bill would also create a two-license limit for new liquor stores.

“This anti-free trade, anti-competitive provision targets squarely at Total Wine & More,” wrote Kevin Peters, the CEO of the Bethesda, Maryland-based company that operates 131 stores in 18 states.

Peters said the bill would “deprive Tennessee communities of jobs, benefits and consumer choice”

Tennessee lawmakers lifted the cap on licenses as a concession to liquor stores owners who largely opposed the wine-in-supermarkets bill in 2014.

But Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol and an original sponsor of the supermarket wine bill, said he has “real issues” with reinstating a cap on liquor store licenses.
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WIGS revision bill allows pre-July wine stocking

While wine sales in grocery stores will become legal on July 1, they will not be a reality in many places until after Labor Day without passage of a bill filed by a West Tennessee lawmaker.

As enacted, the 2014 wine-in-grocery-stores law declared the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission could begin granting licenses to supermarkets and grocery stores on July 1, 2016. But that date failed to take into account processing time for the applications and getting wine delivered from wholesalers to the new retailers.

More than 400 new retailers are ready to sell wine in 83 cities, towns and counties that have approved local sales under the law, according to Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, and wholesalers would need about four months to get wine delivered to all of them.

“Most of those stores wouldn’t be stocked until after Labor Day weekend,” Todd, sponsor of HB2586, told the House State Government Subcommittee last week.
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Court sides with counties in city-county dispute over liquor tax revenue

In a long-running dispute between Tennessee cities and counties operating school systems over distribution of liquor tax revenue, the state Court of Appeals has come down on the side of counties in a Tullahoma versus Coffee County case that could set a precedent for other similar lawsuits – like, for example, the Johnson City versus Washington County case, subject of a report in today’s Johnson City Press.

Excerpt:

A recent court ruling has reawakened the legal duel between Johnson City and the Washington County Board of Education, in which the latter is seeking $3.4 million from prior municipal liquor sales revenues.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals in Nashville has reversed a Coffee County Chancery Court ruling and issued the following opinion: That county’s board of education does, in fact, have the legal right to sue to recover liquor-by-the-drink revenues from the City of Tullahoma. (Note: The opinion is HERE)

The opposing opinion has been one of Johnson City attorney Erick Herrin’s basic lines of litigatory defense.

“This a kick in the teeth to our case, but only if the opinion stands,” Herrin said late Tuesday. “I spoke with counsel with Tullahoma, and this opinion is going to be appealed in the state Supreme Court.”

Sullivan County Chancellor E.G. Moody ruled in March that Washington County could join the Board of Education’s suit filed in early 2014. However, no ruling has yet come down the line from Sullivan County Chancery Court about whether the Board of Education has the right to litigate for its share of revenues through the 2013 fiscal year.

“Without question this strengthens our case,” said Cleveland attorney James Logan, who is representing Washington County. “We will be pressing forward with our motion for summary judgement. I think this is a giant step in that direction.

“It has been our position since the beginning of the Coffee County case that the first ruling was not consistent with state law. The ‘lack-of-capacity position’ raised by municipalities is without merit.”

Herrin disagrees and said Johnson City will go forward with its effort to win the case on its merits regardless of the state Supreme Court’s involvement. He also said the recent opinion has farther-reaching consequences than the liquor-by-the-drink issue.

“The analysis of the court of appeals is so broad that it is difficult to identify what a county school board could not file suit over,” he said. “They may have opened the door so wide for county schools that, in my mind, it now allows for a change in county government. Can a county school board, under this opinion, sue over funding (appropriations)?”

Sunday column: On an ignored law, liquor stores and Scam PACs

An elderly, gray-haired and rather wrinkled lady with a walking cane, ahead of yours truly in the line to buy a bottle of wine at a liquor store recently, was asked for her driver’s license to show that she was older than 21 and legally entitled to buy an alcoholic beverage.

“That’s the law,” said the clerk, eyeing the $50 bill the lady had laid on the counter.

“I don’t have one. It expired. I don’t drive anymore,” she replied, quickly adding that “Johnny does.”

Johnny, standing beside her, turned out to be her 20-something grandson who had driven her to the store in helping her run errands for the day. Johnny produced his photo ID and made the purchase for his grandmother, using her $50 bill.

“That’s really not the law anymore,” I volunteered as they stepped aside. “As of July 1 this year, the Legislature changed things. Now, if a person reasonably appears to be 50 years of age or older, presentation of a photo ID is not required. I’d say this lady reasonably appears to be over 50. Maybe even more than I do.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” said the clerk. “Can I see your driver’s license, please?”
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