Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, speaks to reporters in his legislative office in Nashville on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)
NASHVILLE — Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey predicted Wednesday that lawmakers will approve a bill next session to allow wine to be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores.
The Blountville Republican told reporters that lawmakers previously uncertain about the proposal were surprised by the backlash to the failure of this year’s bill in a House committee.
This year’s bill died when House Local Government Chairman Matthew Hill, who had supported an earlier version, cast the deciding vote against the measure.
“The debacle that happened in the House with the change of the vote at the last minute I think actually helped,” Ramsey said. “There were several senators that may have been sitting on the fence and saw the reaction that came from that and they realized that now they’re going to be for it in some form.”
Hill, a Jonesborough Republican who has since drawn a primary opponent, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Current law keeps supermarkets and convenience stores from selling beer stronger than 5 percent by weight, which is the equivalent of about 6.5 percent in the more common measure of alcohol by volume. Anything stronger can only be sold in liquor stores, which aren’t allowed to sell any items beyond booze and lottery tickets.
Supporters of changing the law note that the measure would allow for local votes on whether to allow supermarket wine sales only in communities that have previously passed referendums to allow sales of liquor by the drink and retail package stores.
Statewide public opinion polls have shown strong support for supermarket wine sales, but opponents have raised fears about wider availability of stronger alcohol and the effect the change would have on existing liquor stores.
The beer industry, a longtime opponent of supermarket wine, last session swung its support in favor of the measure — provided the law also allows them to sell strong beer outside of liquor stores.
This year’s legislative session ended with the Senate version of the measure awaiting a full floor vote. Ramsey said he would prefer to have the chamber vote on that bill next year, but acknowledged that parliamentary problems in the House could require a whole new bill to introduced.
The Senate bill would make a series of other changes that supporters said would help make up for liquor stores losing their exclusive right to sell wine. They would include allowing package stores to be open 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.
None of those proposals had been added to the House bill before it lost its committee vote.