The House Local Government Committee voted 8-7 to reject advancing a measure to allow local referendums to be held on whether grocery stores should be able to sell wine. The proposal is supported by the Republican leaders of both chambers of the General Assembly.
“I’m disappointed because I think the people of this state deserve an opportunity to vote on this issue,” House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said after the vote.
Harwell said she had been standing by to exert her privilege to vote in committee had the vote come down to a tie.
She expressed surprise that Chairman Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, cast the deciding vote against the measure after voting in favor of the bill in subcommittee.
Hill told The Associated Press afterward that he was frustrated that supporters ended debate on the measure before any of at least 10 amendments could be discussed in the committee.
That motion was the culmination of an odd sequence that first saw members refuse a normally automatic request to delay a vote by a week. Debate was then cut off without any questions.
“It was just wrong to cut off debate, and not just to hear the amendments,” Hill said.
“I was extremely frustrated,” he said. “I know the speaker’s frustrated, and she’s probably very frustrated with me, and I’m very sorry about that to her.”
Hill wouldn’t rule out calling for the committee to reconsider its actions, which he could do because he voted on the prevailing side. But he said he will discuss the matter with Harwell “whenever she’s willing to talk to me again.”
But Hill said he’d only consider that move if his committee were to hear the full slate of amendments offered by both supporters and opponents of the bill.
“At the very minimum, there would have to be a real agreement that we’re going hear these amendments and have a real discussion,” he said.
The attempt to delay the bill came after the Senate Finance Committee earlier in the day put off a vote on sending its version to a full floor vote in order to hash out a final version of the bill.
Among the changes that supporters wanted to resolve were whether the bill should also allow liquor stores to sell beer, which hours wine would be available for sale and the exact start date of supermarket wine sales should voters approve.
The proposal sponsored by Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, and Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, had gained a boost a day earlier when the Tennessee Malt Beverage Association, a traditional opponent of the bill, swung its support behind the measure provided it also allowed supermarkets to sell strong beer.
The association representing package store owners and liquor wholesalers remained steadfastly against the bill, arguing that it would hurt existing small business owners and could make stronger alcoholic drinks more available to minors.
“I feel pretty good about,” said David McMahan, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association, said after the vote. “Obviously the committee recognized the concerns with this legislation.”