Wine-in-Supermarkets Lives to Fight Another Day



House Speaker Beth Harwell popped the cork on legalizing the sale of wine in supermarkets, casting the deciding vote to spring the long-suffering bill out of a subcommittee today. The vote was 5-4 to send the bill to the full committee. Before anyone gets too excited, Harwell is making no predictions about its future in the House.

"I think we’ll continue to garner support for this piece of legislation as lawmakers listen to their folks back home," she said afterward. "I’ll take one day at a time. No predictions."

By House rule, Harwell can vote on any committee, and she exercised that right for the first time this session to save the wine bill. It narrowly escaped the Senate State and Local Government Committee a couple of weeks ago. That was the first time wine-in-supermarkets had ever cleared any committee in umpteen years in the legislature. That took backroom arm-twisting by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

Lined up against the bill is a seemingly unbeatable lobbying combination: the liquor industry and conservative Christians. The difference this year is a new tack taken by supporters: Rather than legalizing wine sales outright, the bill allows referendums on the issue in cities that already permit liquor by the drink or retail package stores.

Still, we think it's definitely an uphill climb as long as there are lawmakers like Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga. "If I could, I’d close every liquor store in the state," Floyd said today.

Update: Gov. Bill Haslam won't say what he thinks about wine in supermarkets, citing a conflict of interest. "I have a little bit of a conflict in that our family business then would be eligible to sell wine in convenience stores. I just think it would be most appropriate for me to stay out of it," he tells reporters.

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