Legislation to allow wine to be sold in Tennessee supermarkets and convenience stores isn’t quite dead yet.
A tie vote in the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday morning initially indicated that bill had failed for the year. But a spokesman confirmed later in the day that Democratic Sen. Douglas Henry, who abstained on that vote now wants to vote in favor of the measure after receiving assurances that it would no longer include a provision allowing Sunday liquor sales.
House Speaker Beth Harwell single-handedly kept an effort alive that would allow grocery stores to begin selling wine. In a rare move, today she broke a tie in a legislative subcommittee.
The speaker can vote on any of the committees. And for the first time this year, Harwell chose to do so. She says it’s time to find a compromise that would still be agreeable to the state’s 600 liquor stores, which are the only places wine can be sold now.
“We don’t want to hurt those liquor stores, and we want to do everything we can to make this as palatable to them as possible," she said. "This brings everyone to the table to discuss it.”
In the Senate, Speaker Ron Ramsey has played a critical role in moving the wine-in-supermarkets legislation, admitting he structured one committee with the bill in mind.
The leader of the largest Christian denomination in the state begged state lawmakers not to expand what kinds of stores can sell wine. Until now, this year’s debate over wine in grocery stores has been about economics and fairness, not morality.
The legislation would ultimately leave it up to each city to vote on whether to allow wine in supermarkets. It’s similar to the way towns can vote on sales of liquor by the drink, and Randy Davis of the Tennessee Baptist Convention says such policies involving alcohol divide families.
“It gets bad in these towns over these kinds of issues,” he said.
If a federal judge's ruling goes into effect, businesses that sell liquor in Kentucky may see increased competition — and those businesses are encouraging legislators to act before an appeals decision comes down.
The top two Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly say they support allowing the sale of wine in supermarkets. With the influx of new GOP lawmakers comes the opportunity to reshape key committees where efforts to allow wine sales have long been corked up by opponents.
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