by Jeff Woods
The committee chairman, Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, was the crucial no vote. Supporters expected him to vote yes but he flipped because he said he was upset that they moved to cut off debate quickly and force the committee to decide. That motion was made by Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, who mistakenly thought Hill would vote yes and the bill would pass.
House Speaker Beth Harwell—one of the bill's supporters—attended the meeting and would have kept the bill alive by breaking a tie vote. She didn't get the chance.
Hill said he reversed his position and betrayed Harwell because he wanted to debate and vote on 10 amendments that never were brought up. Can you imagine a committee chairman pulling such a stunt when Jimmy Naifeh was House speaker? Hill stabbed Harwell in the back with her sitting right there in the room with him.
"You got to be kidding me," Hill said later. "The legislators on that committee had sat there for over two hours waiting to hear that legislation. We had all those amendments filed. We had everybody ready to go, and then it’s ‘oh no, we’re not going to do that.’... Call for the question! Really?"
"I don’t take any money from the liquor lobby," he added. "I return their checks. But whatever. We had 10 amendments and we didn’t even get to the first one. We didn’t even have a question asked on the bill. I just don’t think that’s appropriate. I know there are a lot of angry people out there, and I’m sorry they are angry. But do they want us to pass a bad law? No, they don’t. We need to pass good laws, and the only way we can do that if they are fully vetted. And we didn’t even get remotely close to doing that."
So conservative Christians and the liquor industry, which always have fought this bill, proved once again that they are an unbeatable combination in this legislature.
“We’re very happy obviously,” said Chip Christianson, owner of the J. Barleycorn Liquor & Beverage Store. “This is puts it to bed hopefully for good but at least for this year. It’s never gotten out of committee period before, and the tactic of bringing up the referendum was a novel approach. So certainly we were concerned. But it’s a complicated matter and the legislature studied it and they made a wise decision.”