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.”
The latest bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, also would lift the restrictions on what liquor stores can sell, allowing them to sell food, mixers and other items that have long been unlawful. "Groundwork has been laid for those liquor store owners to realize the rules are going to be changed," Harwell said. "I don't know whether the bill will pass or not. It certainly will be heard in committee." Ramsey was more optimistic that the bill will pass. In addition to expecting increased support from the State & Local Government Committee, he said the legislature's 28 new members may be more likely to back the bill because they have had less time to be persuaded by the arguments of liquor store owners. "I don't even drink, so I don't look at it as an alcohol issue," he said. "I look at it as a business issue." Ramsey and other lawmakers said they believe the ban on wine sales in grocery stores eventually will fall, and several said they expect liquor store owners can be brought around to a compromise this year. But liquor store owners are digging in. David McMahan, the liquor store owners' main lobbyist, said he did not believe the latest bill has any support from store owners. "I feel strongly that we'll be successful in defeating this legislation again this year," he said. "I don't think there's support for it in the committee or support for it on the floor."
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said earlier this month that could soon change. Ramsey told me he plans to appoint a special committee in the state Senate to “revamp the state’s liquor laws from the top to bottom.” To be successful, Ramsey said legislators will need concessions from both liquor stores and grocers. Part of that will be a compromise to allow grocery stores to sell wine and permit liquor stores to sell beer, ice and other items they are now prohibited from offering. “This may be the best chance we’ve ever had to get it passed,” Ramsey said. The speaker said he plans to do “everything I can do” to see that the measure is approved by the Senate. The bill’s chances for success in the House, however, is yet to be seen. There is a record number of Republican freshmen in the GOP-controlled House this year, and their minds may not be made up yet on allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores.In the same interview, he has his elections-have-consequences moment:
There’s been talk that Republican-led election commissions across the state have been instructed by GOP leaders in Nashville to dismiss election administrators hired by formerly Democratic-controlled boards. The lieutenant governor said he knows of no such pressure being placed on election commissions. Even so, Ramsey said these “are political jobs” and “you’ll see more changes” being made in the coming months. “To the victor go the spoils,” Ramsey said.
"We are preventing Tennesseans from getting much-needed jobs if we don’t pass this bill," said Jarron Springer, president of the TGCSA. "The substantial revenue generated by this legislation doesn’t require a tax increase or an incentive to spur private investment." David McMahan, lobbyist for the Tennessee Wine and Spirit Retailers Association, takes issue with the study. Speaking to NashvillePost.com, McMahan said, "Grow what market? Are Tennesseans going to drink 25 to 55 percent more? Is that a good thing if they do? Their arguments don't add up." McMahan thinks people will switch from buying beer and liquor to buying wine, and because the taxes are lower on wine, the state will "take a hair cut."
Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville remains the chairman of the State and Local Government Committee, despite the uproar he caused last year by likening pregnant illegal immigrants to multiplying rats. Harwell has said he has made sufficient apologies for the remark. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga said new assignments within the panel could give efforts to allow wine to be sold in supermarkets a better chance than in previous years. "It definitely wasn't getting a fair hearing before - the committee was stacked to make sure it didn't," McCormick said. "You'll have a more open-minded attitude about it now. It may not pass, but we'll look at it in a serious way."
RACIST JOKES: "Nearly one in six Tennesseans has told a joke about Barack Obama’s race, and three-fourths say they’ve heard or read at least one, even though only 15 percent of Tennesseans say they would find such a joke funny." IRAQ: "Just over half (53 percent) of Tennesseans say sending troops to Iraq was “a mistake,” while 38 percent say the move was not a mistake, and the rest aren’t sure." WINE IN GROCERY STORES: "Sixty-two percent of state residents say grocery stores should be allowed to sell wine, while just over a quarter (26%) disagree, and 12% don’t know." BREDESEN: "Gov. Phil Bredesen’s approval rating has slipped to 52%, down from 58% in the fall and well below his tenure’s high of 72% in Spring 2004." "Among demographic factors, education makes the biggest difference, with under half (45%) of Tennesseans without a college degree expressing approval of Bredesen compared with nearly two-thirds (64%) of those with a college degree." STATE INCOME TAX: When asked to choose between the two statements: “Tennessee should amend its constitution to forbid the state from ever introducing a tax on personal income" and “Tennessee should introduce a tax on personal income to lower sales taxes and eliminate taxes on groceries,” 46% of Tennesseans support constitutionally banning a state income tax, and 40% support introducing a state income tax with cuts in sales and food taxes. ABORTION: A majority of Tennesseans (52%) say abortion “should be legal under some circumstances, but not others.” Smaller percentages say either that abortion should be illegal under all circumstances (25%) or legal under all circumstances (19%). OBAMA: Fifty-three percent of Tennesseans say that they approve of how President Barack Obama has done his job so far, and only 27% of Tennesseans disapprove. In the 2008 election, 57% of Tennessee voters cast their ballots for Obama’s Republican rival, John McCain, while only 42% voted for Obama SEE ALSO: Sean Braisted R. Neal