NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A new push on Capitol Hill would let voters make the final decision on the hotly debated issue of allowing wine to be sold in Tennessee grocery stores.
Several polls show a lot of public support to buy wine in grocery stores. The issue is not new to state lawmakers.
Supporters say wine in grocery stores just makes sense, and that 35 states already allow it.
"The idea that this is going to hurt things and people don't really want it, that's really an old school concept," says Jarron Springer with the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association.
State lawmakers haven't budged from that so-called "old school" concept for years. A new tactic in 2012 could change that, letting the public decide the issue in a referendum.
"It's an election year, so in the fall of 2012, it's an election cycle, and it could just be put on the ballot there," Springer said.
Wine in grocery stores has been a touchy issue on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers understand the public support behind it, but worry if it passes it could lead to more underage drinking, possible fallout from the religious community, and the other big issue: the impact it could have on liquor store owners.
There are more than 500 liquor stores across Tennessee. It's a tightly regulated industry.
Chip Christianson with J Barleycorn Beverage Barn says allowing wine in grocery stores would make it more difficult to operate.
"I can promise you, in this store we will lose jobs. Our business will fail, and some of my employees will be without a job," says Christianson.
It has been predicted that liquor stores would see a 30 percent drop in sales if people can start buying wine in grocery stores. Christianson says an uneven business playing field would be created.
To the grocery store industry, it's all about consumer convenience, and giving the public what they supposedly want.
"We plan on passing this bill and working with legislators to find a way so we can get wine sales in our food stores. It's what consumers want, it's what the majority – 70 percent – of consumers want," Springer says.
The idea of a referendum will be debated sometime after state lawmakers return to session on January 10.