NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The idea of wine in Tennessee's grocery stores took a big step forward on Tuesday. A Senate committee approved a proposal that would allow residents to vote on wine sales in supermarkets and convenience stores.
Similar bills have surfaced in the legislature over the past five years, but Tuesday was the first time the idea of wine in grocery stores has passed in a committee. The Senate's State and Local Government Committee voted 5-4 to advance the bill.
Supporters say this bill is different from bills in the past. The measure would allow cities and counties to hold referendums next year to decide whether to expand wine sales beyond the state's 600 licensed liquor stores. Communities already allowing restaurants to serve alcohol or liquor stores to do business would have the right to vote on the issue.
Senator Bill Ketron, a Republican from Murfreesboro, mentioned President Ronald Reagan to support an amendment which would have lifted restrictions on what liquor stores can sell if wine in grocery stores passes in their communities.
"Why not tear down the wall as Ronald Reagan said," said Senator Ketron. "Allow them to sell whatever they need to sell. That's part of what this country is founded upon: free enterprise."
The amendment failed by a vote, but it didn't matter. The vote that did matter went in favor of grocery stores.
There is still plenty of opposition, and it was heard in the House during a hearing on Tuesday. "It's a battle. It's a war," said Chip Christianson who represents liquor store owners. "They won the battle today."
The next step in the Senate is the Finance and Ways Committee which looks at the fiscal impact on the state. Supporters say it generates more money for the state, so it should pass. If it does, it would go on to a vote on the Senate floor.
The first big test in the House is expected in a subcommittee next week.