NASHVILLE, Tenn. -Gov. Bill Haslam says he will
sign a proposal to allow wine to be sold in supermarkets into law if it is
passed by lawmakers this year.
The Republican governor told reporters Thursday that he's neutral on the
measure, but that he won't stand in the way of it becoming law.
Legislation was filed Thursday that would allow Tennesseans to vote on whether to allow supermarkets and convenience stores to sell wine.
State Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro and fellow Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol on Thursday introduced their bill to end the exclusive right of liquor stores to sell wine in Tennessee. Grocery store sales would be limited to wine with an alcohol content of no more than 18 percent.
The measure would put the option of whether to allow wider wine sales to voters in local cities and counties.
The bill, if passed, would give municipalities in those communities that currently allow retail package stores, liquor-by-the-drink establishments or both to hold a referendum on the sale of wine in retail food stores during the next general election. The authorization law would take effect on Jan. 1, 2014 and would allow a referendum to be held after that date.
"Rep. Lundberg and I strongly believe that Tennesseans deserve the opportunity to vote on this issue," Sen. Ketron said. "Currently, municipalities decide whether to allow retail package stores or liquor-by-the drink in their communities, so it makes sense to also take the issue of where to sell wine to the voters."
A petition with 10 percent of the county's registered voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election would have to be submitted to the county election commission where the referendum is to be held.
Thirty-six states, including six of Tennessee's border states, allow the sale of wine in retail food stores. Kentucky will soon join the list due to a recent federal court ruling which deemed its liquor laws unconstitutional.
The Republican House and Senate speakers support the change.
Opponents argue that the change is "is a ploy by out-of-state corporations to circumvent representative government". Leaders from the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association (TWSRA) said the legislation would unfairly disrupt the existing business rules that liquor store owners invested under.
"These out-of-state chains like Walmart and Kroger are determined to get more profit out of the state of Tennessee, no matter what the cost," said Chip Christianson, Vice President of legislative affairs for TWSRA. "This is a highly complex issue that has enormous ramifications on the public safety and small business of our state. Tennessee legislators have studied it intensely for 5 years and still have not found a viable solution. So now the out-of-state chains want to bypass them and take it for a simple yes or no vote. This is not a simple issue. Legislators must realize what these corporations are trying to do and stop them in their tracks."
TWSRA leaders claimed the difference in alcohol content was one of the main reasons the state put wine in specialty retail stores, and to put it on the shelves of grocery and convenience stores would make the beverages more available to minors.