Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s signature on the wine-in-grocery stores law had barely dried before he told reporters Thursday he thinks lawmakers may feel pressure to move up the date when people start shopping for bubbly in their supermarkets.
“When people have a referendum in November and realize when they go to the grocery store in December to buy their wine for Christmas they won’t be able to buy it for another year and a half,” Ramsey said, “that will end up being a political problem for a lot of people, in my opinion.”
Grocery stores were willing to give the lengthy lead time to liquor stores in order to get the bill passed, delaying their wine sales until July 2016 but allowing liquor stores to begin selling goods like beer and cigarettes July of this year. Ramsey said he’s always seen that delay as a political problem and said he sees lawmakers wanting to move up the start date at least six months, although added it will not be a part of his own legislative agenda.
“They’ll be lined up to file that, that’s just my prediction,” Ramsey said.
This time, Rep. Jon Lundberg added the guts of the wine-in-grocery stores bill to his copy, which paves the way for voter referendums. Both his HB610 and Rep. Ryan Haynes' HB47 are still on the move. Next stop: full Finance Ways and Means Committee.
Step one complete: The state Senate has voted 23-8 to allow wine to be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores. But there's still work to be done, including changing language concerning high-gravity beers.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, said he recognized that the bill is the result of a compromise to ensure its passage, but expressed disappointment that it no longer included provisions to allow beer stronger than 6.5 percent to be sold in convenience stores.
The speaker saves the day on wine-in-grocery-stores:
The speaker can vote on any of the committees. And for the first time this year, Harwell chose to do so. She says it’s time to find a compromise that would still be agreeable to the state’s 600 liquor stores, which are the only places wine can be sold now.
“We don’t want to hurt those liquor stores, and we want to do everything we can to make this as palatable to them as possible. This brings everyone to the table to discuss it.”
In the American system, the Speaker is a partisan position — leader of the House's majority party. But in Westminster systems, the Speaker plays a more neutral role (typically standing for re-election with the label of "The Speaker" rather than a specific party).
In the case of ties, the Speakers in those countries follow something called "Speaker Denison's Rule." In short, "The principle is to always vote in favor of further debate, or, where no further debate is possible, to vote in favor of the status quo." In this case, Harwell's vote kept the bill alive for further debate. I've no idea if she knew was following the grand tradition of Speaker Denison, but she did nonetheless.
For the fifth consecutive year, wine sales in grocery stores is dead:
The House State and Local Government Subcommittee rejected a compromise amendment and voted to kill the bill for this session by referring it to next year.
In an attempt to save his bill, Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, tried to amend it to leave it up to voters to decide whether to allow wine sales in grocery stores. Any city or county that already allows liquor by the drink could have held a referendum on wine sales under his amendment. But the subcommittee tabled it by a vote of 5-3.
Lundberg pointed to a study by the grocers association showing wine-in-groceries would create as many as 3,500 jobs and generate up to $38 million in taxes and license fees for local and state governments.
“This is a jobs bill,” Lundberg said. “What we’re doing is removing a state-mandated monopoly and keeping business from literally driving out of the state. Studies show this adds thousands of jobs. Polls show that, frankly, people in this state want this. Let people vote. If they have adopted liquor by the drink in their community, this allows wine in grocery stores to be voted on by the people who want this. The most important thing is, it’s the vote of the people. Let people decide where they want it and if they want it.”
Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, disputed Lundberg’s numbers and basically accused the wine industry of making them up.
“Folks in the grocery business are not going to hire new people,” Todd said. “Folks who now are going to the [wine] store to buy a bottle of wine are going to get the same bottle at the grocery store. It’s swapping out.”