Wine-in-Supermarkets Bill Takes Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

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A deal seems within reach to allow the sale of wine in supermarkets at long last in Tennessee. The liquor industry came to the table and gobbled up some goodies, and the next thing everyone knew senators were loading up the bill with amendments to make liquor store owners happy.

“Wine, wine, makes you feel so fine,” Sen. Douglas Henry joked as the Senate Finance Committee worked on the bill this morning.

The committee wound up delaying a final vote, instead appointing a subcommittee to finish up a few details and report back possibly next week.

“The cake is not quite done, so we’re going to stick a toothpick in it and, when it’s done, we’ll come back,” said the sponsor, Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro.

“I suspect for this one there’s a warm breeze blowing,” Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, said.

The committee voted for amendments giving liquor stores the right to sell a lot of other stuff like cheese and crackers and fruit, and just about anything else you might want to enjoy with your Captain Morgan. What’s more, the deal drops the provision in state law letting people own only one liquor store, giving liquor store owners visions of financial grandeur.

Whiskey drinkers almost snagged a provision allowing liquor stores to make home deliveries. Whoo-hoo! But Henry, D-Nashville, managed to kill that amendment because he said, “You ought to have to walk in there to show your face to buy whiskey, it seems to me.” Why is that? He didn’t say.

This is the first session that wine in supermarkets ever has made it out of any committee in the legislature in six years of failure. This year, it has cleared a full Senate committee as well as a House subcommittee. But House Speaker Beth Harwell had to go to that meeting to cast the tie-breaking vote. Afterward, she called on liquor stores to negotiate a deal. That appears to be what has happened.

The big 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.

The beer industry is on board for the first time. The Tennessee Malt Beverage Association dropped its opposition to the bill in return for a provision allowing grocery stores to sell high-gravity beer. That amendment is yet to come.

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