NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The full Senate is scheduled to vote next week on a proposal to allow wine to be sold in Tennessee supermarkets, while a House committee that derailed last year's version is set to consider reviving the measure.
Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville says the upper chamber has scheduled a Jan. 30 vote on the proposal to authorize cities to hold referendums on whether to allow wine to be sold outside of liquor stores.
"All but one special interest group is happy with that bill, and I don't know whether we'll ever make them happy," Ramsey told The Associated Press on Thursday, referring to the association representing liquor store owners.
Liquor lobbyists fought last year's version of the bill, eventually succeeding in killing the measure in the House Local Government Committee when the panel's chairman, Republican Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesborough, reversed his earlier support.
Hill said after he cast the deciding vote against because he was upset that sponsors didn't want to debate a series of proposed amendments. But by September he said he would consider taking the parliamentary steps to revive the measure.
"We continue to work with all sides to reach the most positive outcome for all Tennesseans," Hill said in an email Thursday.
This year, the liquor industry representatives have engaged in negotiations encouraged by House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville and a major supporter of supermarket wine. Lobbyists for liquor stores have for the first time signaled that they'd be willing to agree to grocery store wine sales — but only as long as convenience stores and big box retailers like Wal-Mart are kept out of the bill.
That position has been criticized as arbitrary by Wal-Mart, the state's largest seller of groceries, and by the convenience stores association that has swung its support behind the Senate version of the bill that would include their shops — and allow them to sell high-gravity beer alongside wine.
Under current law, grocery stores are banned from selling anything stronger than beer, while liquor stores can't sell anything beyond booze and lottery tickets. The proposed law change would allow liquor stores sell items like beer, cigarettes and snacks.
Harwell and Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol and the bill's main House sponsor, said negotiations will continue through the weekend before coming up in the House Local Government Committee on Tuesday.
Ramsey said the Senate doesn't see a need for excluding retailers on either the larger or smaller side of the spectrum, and suggested that competing versions of the bill may have to be reconciled in a conference committee.
"That's not necessarily a bad thing, because when it comes out of a conference committee, it's an up or down vote," Ramsey said. "You have to decide: This or nothing. And then it passes."