NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee liquor stores would be allowed to be open for business on Sundays under changes to a supermarket wine bill adopted by the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.
The panel voted to make several changes to the measure seeking to allow cities and governments to hold referendums on whether to permit supermarkets and convenience stores to sell wine.
The changes included ending a ban on liquor stores operating on Sundays and holidays, and linking supermarket wine sales to the hours they are currently allowed to sell beer. The measure would also allow liquor stores to begin selling items like snacks, beer and ice in 2014, regardless of whether a city or county had approved supermarket wine sales.
The panel delayed a final vote on the bill for a week so members could have time to think about the changes. The companion bill has failed in a House committee, but supporters hope it can be revived either this year or next.
The Sunday liquor sales provision was the most contested element of the bill, with its approval coming down to a single vote.
All six votes in favor of Sunday liquor sales came from Republicans, while two GOP members sided with all three Democrats on the panel voting against it.
“I know the blue laws are outdated, but there’s something wrong about selling a bottle of whiskey on a Sunday morning,” said Democratic Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville.
Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro and the bill’s main sponsor, noted that under the bill, liquor store hours would be limited to noon until 11 p.m. on Sundays.
Republican Sen. Doug Overbey lauded Ketron for having “labored long and hard in this vineyard,” but argued for taking a week to contemplate the many changes made to the original legislation.
Fellow Republican Sen. Ferrell Haile of Gallatin said he was worried about the range of changes to the original bill.
“I don’t want to vote against wine in grocery stores because I think our constituents are looking for this,” he said. “But there are all kinds of warning signs here to me that I’m concerned about our younger people and availability in the convenience markets that they go to.”
Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol, the main House sponsor of the bill, said he was unaware of any move to resurrect his version of the bill this year, but questioned why the Senate was trying to add so many elements beyond a local referendum to the measure.
“It’s real simple, it’s an up-or-down, yes-no vote, on whether they want to have wine sales in grocery stores,” Lundberg said. “The opposition is trying to make it vastly more complex than it is.
Politico discovered Bill Haslam last week, declaring in a flattering profile piece that he is “the most important Republican governor you’ve never heard of,” a prospective candidate for national office and “at the very least a model for national Republicans groping around for ideas that appeal to the middle class.”
At the same time, the national online political magazine was also running an article about the great divide among Republican governors over Medicaid expansion. The “ideological purists are big-name Southern governors who have all said ‘hell no’ to major pieces of the law, even turning down free federal cash to expand Medicaid in their states,” the article says. Haslam, not being a big-name governor and only recently discovered by Politico, is not mentioned.
He’s also not mentioned among the “more pragmatic governors” who have said yes to Medicaid expansion, risking the wrath of their party’s right wing for doing something that can be construed as embracing the despised Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare.”
But it’s a pretty safe bet that he will be joining the more pragmatic governors after going through a few more motions to soften the ensuring confrontation with the Legislature’s ideological purists as much as possible.
The House, as scheduled, met at 7 p.m. (Central Time) Sunday and heard a second reading on the floor of SJR222, then adjourned at 7:11 p.m. There was no vote and no action on any other legislation.
The resolution calls for amending the state Constitution to allow veterans organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion to hold charitable gambling events for fundraising once a year, subject to the Legislature’s approval of each event. That’s the way things are now for many charities, but veterans organizations are chartered under a separate provision of federal non-profit laws and are excluded now.
The rules for amending the state constitution require that the amendatory resolution must be read aloud on the floor of both the House and Senate three times before a vote is taken.
That has already occured in the Senate, where the resolution received approval.
But the House didn’t get to the first reading until Friday. If the Legislature stuck to its usual schedule of beginning the week’s session on Monday, that would mean another meeting would be required Tuesday if the legislators were to get the required reading on three separate days.
House leaders decided instead to have an unusual Sunday meeting for the second reading. That clears the way for a third reading and final vote on Monday, when leaders hope the 107th General Assembly will adjourn permanently.
The resolution is sponsored in the House by Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, and in the Senate by Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City.
The House vote board showed 89 members present for the closing roll call on the Sunday session.
— Note: In conversation with members and staff, no one — including yours truly — can recall the Legislature ever previously meeting on a Sunday. There have been several Saturday meetings late in sessions and one memorable meeting on the July 4th holiday during the tax fights of more than a decade ago.
God rested on the seventh day, observes Action Andy, but state House members won’t be resting this evening as they race to finish their annual legislative session on Monday. The House is meeting in a rare Sunday session to advance a proposed amendment to the Tennessee Constitution. It adds veterans’ groups to the list of nonprofits able to conduct raffles.
Under the state’s constitutional amendment process, Senate Joint Resolution 222 has to be read three times on the floor and then receive majority approval after the third reading.
Only then can it advance to the next 108th General Assembly meeting in 2013-14 where lawmakers will have to decide by a two-thirds majority to put it on the 2014 ballot for voters to consider.
The resolution, which already has passed the Senate, was only read for the first time on the floor Friday.
“I think we wanted to get three days of readings in on that,” said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga. “In order to do that, we need to meet Sunday night and Monday. Then we would not have to come in Tuesday.”
He said the House and Senate are “hoping to get finished Monday night” and go home for the year.
The House had considered staying in town Saturday to deal with the amendment, but a rush on hotel rooms as a result of the Music City Marathon made finding places to stay difficult.
One curiosity in the new normal of Republican rule in the General Assembly seems to be a role reversal of the House and Senate in institutional attitude.
In the old normal, senators would harrumph at length on a bipartisan basis about being members of “deliberative body” of ladies and gentlemen while viewing the House with some disdain as a bunch of chest-thumping, lock-stepping good ole boys and girls.
Representative, in turn, regard senators disdainfully as something of an elitist debating society, foolishly dithering away hours and days in arcane arguments over the minutia of mundane matters.
In the new normal, the House has become the deliberative body while the Senate is home of the Republican lockstep railroad.
Perhaps the best current example is handing of Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill to abolish the current civil service system and replace it with a new, merit-based plan for state employees. As for long-term impact on the operation of state government, it is probably the most significant and complex piece of legislation considered this year.
The Republican redistricting mantra, recited repeatedly before and during the unveiling of the official state House and Senate maps last week, was declaring the result of the party’s first-ever Tennessee reapportionment would be “fair and legal.”
Whether the work product now on display and ready for rocketing through the Legislature this week meets that standard is as debatable as whether Fox News is “fair and balanced” as repeatedly proclaimed by the network — at least on the fairness front.
Fairness is in the eyes of the beholder. Or maybe the beholder’s political mindset.
On an objective basis, it’s reasonable to say the redistricting plans are fair enough to make their fairness debatable. Going beyond that is a matter of partisan opinion.
On the legal front, the answer will be provided by the court system. Democrats say they are virtually certain to file a court challenge, barring some last-minute changes before enactment. Treatment of minorities in the House plan seems to be a particular source of Democratic hopes for courtroom success.
News release from Distilled Spirits Council of the United States:
WASHINGTON, DC – State legislators should make a New Year’s resolution to pass Sunday alcohol sales in 2012 since Tennessee is one of only 13 states that still continue to enforce archaic Blue Laws, stated the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS).
Most recently, Georgia passed a local option Sunday sales bill in April 2011 and found that over 100 communities immediately voted for it – including an astounding 82-18 percent tally in Atlanta, the state’s largest city.
“Over eighty percent of Atlanta voters immediately chose to ditch their Sunday sales ban. If that doesn’t define overwhelming consumer demand – I don’t know what does,” said DISCUS Vice President Ben Jenkins. Georgia became the 15th state since 2002 to repeal its Sunday Blue Law.
“Sunday sales are a great way for legislators to generate much-needed revenue without raising taxes or cutting programs,” Jenkins said, noting that Tennessee stands to gain as much as $3 million annually from statewide Sunday spirits sales.
Despite Prohibition ending in 1933, the following states continue to prohibit Sunday alcohol sales: Alabama, Connecticut, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia. Notably, Connecticut and Indiana are the only two states in the country that ban beer, wine and liquor sales on Sundays. Georgia Sunday Sales Elections
In Georgia, 105 localities voted to pass Sunday alcohol sales referenda in 2011. This was the first time Georgia voters have had an opportunity to decide on Sunday alcohol sales for off-premise establishments such as liquor stores. Notable Sunday sales victories included: Atlanta (82%-18%), Macon (62%-38%), and Savannah (60%-40%). More localities already are lining up for the next round of local option elections in March, including Augusta and Athens.