A shopper walks past a liquor store in Nashville in this file photo. AP photo.
A Tennessee House Local Government Committee voted on Tuesday to reconsider and then advance state Rep. Jon Lundberg’s amended legislation that would allow localities to hold referendums on whether wine should be sold in grocery stores.
Lundberg, R-Bristol, filed the amendment that stripped out much of the bill’s original language — eight and a half pages — but kept the ability for localities to hold wine-in-grocery- stores votes.
His legislative maneuver drew fire from some Republicans on the committee although it passed by a 13-3 vote and now moves on to be considered by the House Finance Committee.
“I can’t believe that if we’re sitting here voting on this, that we’re smart enough as a committee to vote on ... the other eight and a half pages. That confuses me and almost offends me,” said state Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga.
Lundberg noted Tennesseans at the local level have held similar referendum votes to allow liquor by the drink and package stores.
He also reiterated that Tennesseans buy wine routinely at grocery stores in Bristol, Va., and argued his bill is pro-economic development. “Those jobs are coming back,” Lundberg told the committee.
But Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, noted Lundberg’s bill didn’t make it out of the same committee in the last legislative session.
“I realize that in the legislature, you just keep throwing stuff at the wall until it sticks,” Holt told Lundberg. “... It’s very hard to argue against referendums, and I like referendums ... (but) the stand last year was your bill was beaten in committee. ... When we talk about this being a jobs bill, I think it’s a jobs-killing bill. I think this is another opportunity for folks to consume alcohol in this state.”
Unlike last year, committee chairman Matthew Hill didn’t stand in the way of Lundberg’s legislation, which has been considered and debated in some form by lawmakers for five years.
Communities could opt in or out of these referendum votes, Hill pointed out.
“As I have said from the beginning, I take the legislative process very seriously and believe our committee system is in place to allow lawmakers on both sides of an issue the opportunity to thoroughly debate ideas in an open and transparent environment,” Hill, R-Jonesborough, said in a prepared release issued after the vote. “Fortunately, this time around, both sides had ample time to present their arguments and were able to engage in healthy, well-rounded, and lively debate. This is why, today, I decided to vote in favor of this bill — a bill I believe gives a voice to the people of our state to decide what is best for their local communities.”
Hill also filed an amendment calling for no local wine-in-grocery-stores referendum to be held before the November 2014 election, and that jurisdictions must have previously passed a liquor-by-the-drink or package store referendum.
The state Senate version of Lundberg’s bill is expected to be considered on the Senate floor on Thursday.
A separate amended legislative proposal passed on a voice vote Tuesday by the House State Government Committee would allow any store deriving at least 20 percent of its sales from groceries to qualify to sell wine. The proposal would also require stores to have a retail space of at least 2,000 square feet. July 1, 2016, would be the earliest date supermarkets and convenience stores could sell wine.
Current package stores would also be allowed to sell non-liquor items like beer, cigarettes, snacks and ice. But those package store owners would also be able to ban any store located within 500 feet from being able to sell wine until July 2017, according to the amended legislative measure filed by Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville.
Rep. Curry Todd, R-Colliervile, also filed an additional amendment on Haynes’ bill calling for a new liquor wholesale distributor for Northeast Tennessee.
“I still consider it bad legislation,” state Rep. Kent Williams, I-Elizabethton, said of Haynes’ bill, which is co-sponsored by Lundberg and GOP House Speaker Beth Harwell.
For more go to www.capitol.tn.gov. Lundberg’s bill is HB 610. Haynes’ bill is HB 47.