Tag Archives: referendum

Grocers group organizing efforts to get WIGS referendum on November local ballots

News release from Red, White and Food
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (May 5, 2014) – Red White and Food – a coalition launched by the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association in support of wine sales in retail food stores – will become an independent nonprofit organization that will lead the statewide wine referendum campaign.

By becoming a 501(c)(6) organization, Red White and Food will be able to support eligible communities in local petition drives to get the referendum for the legal sale of wine in retail food stores on the November ballot. In the communities where the referendum passes, retailers can begin selling wine as early as July 2016.

“We’re excited to enter the next phase of the wine in retail foods stores campaign and to begin the process of collecting signatures of registered voters,” said Melissa Eads, marketing manager for the Nashville division of Kroger, and a Red White and Food committee member. “This effort has always been about our customers, and we look forward to the day when they will be able to purchase wine with the rest of their groceries.”

To get the wine referendum on the ballot, eligible communities – those that already allow liquor-by-the-drink, liquor stores or both – must submit these petitions to the local election commission with at least as many signatures as would equal 10 percent of their residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election. The petitions must be completed and verified by the local election commissions by Aug. 21.

“Retail food stores across the state are eager to help eligible communities put the wine referendum on the November ballot,” said Steve Smith, who is president and CEO of K-VA-T Food Stores, which owns Food City grocery stores in East Tennessee, and a Red White and Food executive committee member. “Making Red White and Food a nonprofit organization is the first step in producing successful petition drives, and ultimately passing the wine referendum on Nov. 4.”

High-dollar fundraiser kicks off campaign for passage of abortion amendment to TN constitution

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Anti-abortion rights activists are planning a high-dollar fundraiser next week to kick off their campaign for a constitutional amendment next fall that would give lawmakers more power to restrict access to abortions.

Republican state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is hosting a reception and dinner at a Nashville hotel Monday to support the proposed amendment, which seeks to void a 2000 state Supreme Court ruling. The court threw out mandatory 48-hour waiting periods for abortions, along with requirements that clinics provide detailed information about the procedure and that all but first-term abortions be performed in hospitals.

The ruling prevented lawmakers from re-enacting those laws and from passing other restrictions. For example, Republican lawmakers this year considered a bill to require ultrasounds before abortions, but the proposal was delayed pending the outcome of next year’s referendum. One of that measure’s main sponsors, Republican state Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, is running for Congress this year.

In an invitation to the fundraiser, Ramsey urges supporters to pay between $1,000 for two tickets and up to $50,000 to be named chairman of the effort to stop Tennessee from being what he called an “abortion destination” for people from neighboring states. Organizers said they have already raised more than $250,000.

“The passage of this amendment will restore the constitutional silence on abortion that was usurped by liberal judges and allow Tennessee to place reasonable, common sense restrictions on the abhorrent practice of abortion,” Ramsey said in an email to The Associated Press.

Jeff Teague, president of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, said abortion rights advocates will also mount a vigorous campaign against the amendment.
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Pigeon Forge Approves Liquor-by-the-Drink (again)

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (AP) — Voters in Pigeon Forge have again approved liquor by the drink. This time, the margin was 154 votes.
The Mountain Press (http://bit.ly/ZtC0Uc ) reported Ken Maples, who led the pro-liquor initiative, said the election Thursday validated the choice voters initially made on Nov. 6.
Results of that referendum were thrown out by a court over confusion about who was allowed to vote. The question was on a crowded general election ballot, headed by the presidential race.
Jess Davis, who is co-chairman of Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge, said his group was disappointed in the outcome and might contest the results.
The Sevier County Election Commission meets March 21 to certify the vote.

Baptist Leader Sees More Harm Than Good in Wine Referendum Bill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Opponents of a proposal to allow communities to hold referendums on whether to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores argued Monday that the votes could do more harm than good.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee heard from opponents and supporters during a nearly two-hour meeting. The measure would leave it to voters in cities and counties to decide whether to expand wine sales beyond liquor stores.
A full committee vote on Tuesday will decide whether the measure advances or fails for yet another year. While allowing wine sales in supermarkets and convenience stores enjoys strong public support, it is strongly opposed by the liquor industry, package stores and religious groups.
Randy Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, told the panel that he fears putting the wine measure before voters would have consequences similar to a recent campaign over allowing liquor-by-the drink sales in Pigeon Forge.
“Right now Pigeon Forge is polarized, families torn apartment, friendships ruined, because in our small communities they are battling over this liquor-by-the drink issue,” he said. “And the same thing is going to happen.”
Davis said lawmakers should stop short of putting more liquor issues on the ballot on the basis of convenience.
“We don’t know where this idea of convenience is going to lead us, we don’t know what the next step is,” he said. “Others before you have not put it at the feet of the voters to have wine in liquor stores and I beg of you not to take it there.”
Republican Sen. Janice Bowling of Tullahoma, who declined to give her position on the bill after the meeting, told Davis that several issues will affect her decision.
“As a teetotaling Baptist myself, I can assure that my vote will not be based on convenience, it’s going to be based on Tennesseans and what I’m hearing from my constituents my district,” she said.

Today’s Wine-in-Groceries Bill Report

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Supporters of a perennial legislative proposal to allow supermarkets and convenience stores to sell wine expressed confidence Thursday that their latest effort could succeed where previous ones failed.
But the bill is meeting its usual stiff resistance from liquor store owners and wholesalers, who want to keep the current system that restricts sales of any alcohol strong than 5 percent to liquor stores.
State Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro and fellow Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol said in a press conference that their bill would put the decision before the voters in cities and counties that currently allow liquor sales.
“Tennesseans deserve the opportunity to vote on this issue,” Ketron said. “If you’re not buying wine where you shop for food, you don’t have to vote for it.
“But we think a lot of Tennesseans will vote for it,” he said.
Opponents argue the change would unfairly harm existing small businesses and make higher-alcohol drinks more widely available to minors
“These out-of-state chains like Walmart and Kroger are determined to get more profit out of the state of Tennessee, no matter what the cost,” Nashville liquor store owner Chip Christianson, an officer in the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association , said in a written statement.
“Legislators must realize what these corporations are trying to do and stop them in their tracks,” he said.
Lundberg said supporters have tried to negotiate with liquor store owners.
“We’ve gone to the industry and said, ‘Let’s talk, and meet about what we can do together,'” Lundberg said. “And frankly, they haven’t wanted to sit at that table.”
Ketron dismissed claims that minors would have easier access to alcohol. He noted that an existing law requiring grocery and convenience store clerks to check IDs for all beer sales would also apply to wine. He proposed changing state law to include liquor stores under the universal carding law.
“It’s time that we treat every alcohol sale the same, regardless of where it’s sold,” he said.
The bill would prevent grocery and convenience stores from selling wine stronger than 18 percent, a move that sponsors said is meant to prevent them from stocking fortified wines. The measure would not authorize grocery stores to sell beer stronger than 5 percent by weight.
“The beer wholesalers don’t support the legislation,” said Rich Foge, the president of the Tennessee Malt Beverage Association. “But we think that if you’re going to put wine in grocery stores up to 18 percent alcohol, then absolutely a high-gravity beer should be allowed to be sold there, side-by-side with other products.”
Ketron said he expects the Senate to evaluate the bill before it is brought up by House committees. The measure has the support of the Republican leaders in both chambers of the General Assembly.
“This really is a reasonable piece of legislation that will be good public policy for Tennessee,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville said he understands the concerns of liquor store owners, but he wants them to take a more serious approach to finding a compromise.
“I’d like to think that we can get this bill out of committee and get it moving, and we’ll have some discussion and figure out where the happy median is,” Ramsey said.

Note: News release on filing of the bill is below.

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Sevier Election Commission Wants Election Investigation

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (AP) — The Sevier County Election Commission has voted to ask the district attorney’s office to investigate people who improperly cast ballots in a problematic liquor-by-the-drink referendum.
Commissioners made the decision Thursday after earlier attributing voting mistakes to poll worker confusion. The referendum came on the same day as the general election, which produced the largest turnout ever in the county. Nearly 300 people who did not live in Pigeon Forge were allowed to vote on the liquor issue.
A judge tossed the election results, and the commission has scheduled a revote for March 14.
The Mountain Press (http://bit.ly/WmQMKN ) reported Election Commission member Darrell Whitchurch made the motion to send the names to prosecutor Jimmy Dunn. He said if anyone is attempting fraud from either side, they should be prosecuted.

Battle Lines Drawn for Another Pigeon Forge Liquor Vote

When Pigeon Forge votes yet again on liquor by the drink, the News Sentinel reports that opponents plan a very different campaign, while supporters plan to concentrate on getting the vote out.
And the anti-liquor group Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge says it wants to find an independent agency to monitor the election.
The Sevier County Election Commission voted on Thursday to set March 14 for the new referendum.
Liquor by the drink was approved on Nov. 6, but that referendum was voided by Chancellor Telford Forgety after a lawsuit brought by CCCPF. Liquor was defeated in referendums in 2009 and 2011. On Nov. 6, it passed by 100 votes, but nearly 300 votes were cast by people who were ineligible to vote in the referendum because they were not residents of or owners of property in Pigeon Forge. The election commission ultimately admitted that the results vote were “incurably uncertain.”
“We are going to rephrase our message,” said CCCPF Chairman Jess Davis. Besides campaigning against liquor by the drink, he said, “we are going point out that it was our city officials that got us into this mess.”
Davis was referring to a request in March by the Pigeon Forge City Commission to the state Legislature to override the normal two-year vote between referendums on the same issue, and add the liquor question to the Nov. 6 election. The bill was handled by lawmakers from outside Sevier County and approved.

Pigeon Forge Liquor Vote Voided; New Election Planned

A judge has voided Pigeon Forge’s liquor-by-the-drink election and ordered a new vote.
From Jim Balloch’s report:
It all fermented down to this: In the controversial Nov. 6 referendum that approved liquor by the drink for Pigeon Forge, there was no fraud.
But a series of errors by poll workers that let nearly 300 ineligible people vote are enough to invalidate the election and require a new poll, Chancellor Telford Forgety ruled Thursday.
“It is clear that this election must be set aside,” Forgety said. “The results of the election are without question incurably uncertain.”
He added: “There is no evidence of any intentional fraud by anybody. No evidence whatsoever … (these were) good faith mistakes.”
Forgety ordered a new election held in 45 to 60 days, as state law requires when an election has been overturned.
With dozens of spectators on hand to see the proceedings, the case was moved from the small Chancery Court courtroom to the larger room where Sevier County Commission holds its public meetings.
The Sevier County Election Commission will schedule an emergency meeting for as soon as possible, within public notice requirements, for the purpose of scheduling a new election, said the commission’s lawyer Dennis Francis.
The meeting could be sometime next week, and the election itself will likely be held “sometime in the middle of March,” Francis said.

Corporations Can Vote — Or at Least Authorize People to Vote For Them?

Jim Balloch reports on new curiosities coming to light in a Pigeon Forge liquor-by-the-drink referendum that was decided by 100 votes with, reportedly,, 303 more people voting than were registered to cast ballots in city elections. It’s already inspired a lawsuit and now it appears the FBI is interested.
But the real curiosity is the apparent move by some companies to make people eligible – as property owners – by giving them an interest, temporarily, in property within the city limits. An excerpt
Pigeon Forge City Hall is a split precinct. Besides city voters, many county residents who live outside the city vote there in countywide, state and national elections.
In sworn depositions, poll workers say they were instructed to allow nonresidents to vote in the referendum, that many who did not live in the city were given liquor by the drink ballots, and that there was a lot of confusion that day because different ballots were required for combinations of races.
“I’m sure that contributed to the problem,” Francis said. “I cannot disagree with (poll workers’ statements) that it was a chaotic and confusing day.”
Sevier County property records show some spurious land transactions that were the basis of votes cast by more than a dozen nonresidents who voted as property owners. The votes were perfectly legal, according to state election officials, even though the property ownership claimed by those voters was a 1 percent interest in extremely valuable commercial properties.
Those interests were given — for free — shortly before the election, by four Knoxville-based corporations with numerous links to developers and restaurant businesses in Pigeon Forge.
There are also questions about the validity of what are listed on voter rosters as residential addresses for some Pigeon Forge voters. These include mail drops, a vacant lot, and a building that houses a tattoo parlor and check cashing business.
The News Sentinel was unable to locate some of those individuals for whom those addresses were listed. Some others were found residing in Pigeon Forge residences, and said they used other locations as a mailing address that should not have been listed as their residences.
The News Sentinel has learned that two FBI agents from the Knoxville office recently met with about six members of Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge, a group that opposed liquor by the drink and has filed a lawsuit challenging the election.
The FBI does not confirm or deny the existence of an ongoing investigation, or even say if it has made a preliminary inquiry about a possible investigation
…”I was told that whoever came to my table, if their name was on my roster, they got to vote on the referendum,” even if they did not have a Pigeon Forge address or property, poll worker Mary Louise Beck said in a sworn deposition. She was one of four Election Commission employees subpoenaed to give depositions in CCCPF’s lawsuit challenging the election.
More depositions are being taken this week. Trial is set for Jan. 10-11.

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Harwell, Ramsey Think It’s Time for Wine in Grocery Stores

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The top two Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly support allowing the sale of wine in supermarkets, and the influx of new GOP lawmakers is giving them the opportunity to reshape key committees where efforts to make that change have long been blocked by opponents.
Under the state’s restrictive three-tiered beverage control system, every drop of alcohol is supposed to flow from the manufacturer to a wholesale distributor and then to the retailers. And any bottle stronger than beer can only be bought at one of 501 liquor stores around the state.
The latest proposed overhaul would give counties that currently allow liquor sales to hold a referendum on whether to remove liquor stores’ exclusive right to sell wine.
“It’s one of those issues we’ve battled forever,” Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, told The Associated Press. “And I think the opponents have held it off for about as long as they can hold it off.”
Fellow Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville agreed.
“This has been coming for a long time,” she said. “It’s certain that the public would like to see that, and hopefully we can work out something that is a win-win for everybody.”

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