Speaker Harwell's Vote Keeps Grocery Store Wine Bill Going
Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell cast the deciding vote to move the controversial "Wine in Grocery Stores" bill to full committee.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - House Speaker Beth Harwell has rescued a bill to allow supermarket wine sales by casting the deciding vote in a subcommittee where the measure faced defeat.
Harwell, a Nashville Republican, is allowed to cast a vote in any committee, but rarely does so. She sat in on the House Local Government Subcommittee on Wednesday.
The bill passed with a 5-4 vote and will now move on to full committee.
The Speaker's involvement angered some liquor store owners gathered in the hallway by casting a deciding vote against an attempt to put the bill off until July 2014.
"We expected a different outcome. Obviously the Speaker got involved and got a few votes changed," said Chip Christianson, owner of J. Barleycorn liquor and board member for the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association.
The bill sponsored by Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol would allow cities and counties to hold referendums on whether to allow wine to be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores.
Proponents of the bill note that the bill calls for cities and counties to hold referendums on the bill, meaning no area would automatically allow wine sales in grocery stores.
Opponents argued the change would negatively affect the state's existing liquor stores, which have the exclusive license to sell wine under current law.
Christianson said there were lots of complications and lots of issues that needed to be considered.
"What we will find is this is very complicated," said Christianson. "As this thing progresses – however it does – it'll become apparent how complicated the issue is. It's not nearly as simple as has been portrayed."
Christianson said in addition to other issues facing the bill, he felt it was just bad public policy.
Speaker Harwell said it was important for her to sit in committee on the bill.
"It was important for us to show movement here in the House – that folks can come to the table sand sit down and work on this piece of legislation," she said.
It was the first time Harwell voted in committee this year.
"I respect the committee system and I expect some good debate and I think it's worthy of having the full committee look at this," said Harwell.
Melissa Eads with Kroger credited Harwell for keeping the bill moving forward.
"The Speaker really made this happen for Tennesseans. She listened to constituents. She knows that the majority of Tennesseans are in favor of this and she helped put this in the hands of the consumers," said Eads.
The companion bill last week also cleared its first Senate committee last week by a single vote.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)