By Chas Sisk, The Tennessean
Supporters and opponents of a bill that would let grocery and convenience stores sell wine undertook one final push to sway Tennessee lawmakers Monday ahead of a make-or-break vote in the state legislature.
store owners, grocery store operators, wine shoppers, a sheriff, an
addiction specialist and a minister were among the people allowed to
testify at a special hearing held a day before the Senate State & Local Government Committee
is to vote on the biggest rewrite of Tennessee's liquor laws in
decades. Members guarded their votes closely, asking few questions about
an issue that has come before the legislature regularly.
Testimony largely hewed to the arguments that have been made time and again in the General Assembly. Supporters argued that grocery store sales
will introduce more competition and increase convenience for wine
shoppers. Opponents said loosening liquor laws will lead to more
drinking and regulators will have difficulty limiting expansion solely
to wine in grocery stores.
The 90-minute hearing was meant to give
committee members more information about Senate Bill 837 ahead of
today's vote - the first since supporters of wine-in-supermarkets began
their most recent push in 2007.
The biggest difference in this
year's legislation is it would require communities to hold referendums
on whether to allow wine to be sold in their supermarkets.
arguments varied widely. Grocery store operators said liquor stores
should be required to compete for wine sales rather than having the
guarantee of a state liquor license.
Victoria Regens, a West
Nashville wine shopper, told the panel that the limits placed on wine
sales sometimes force her to bring her children into liquor stores.
don't know if you've ever taken children to a liquor store, but it's an
ordeal," she said. "I've got sweet kids. They want to help me shop.
They want to help me pick out the wine and roll the carts."
On the other hand, liquor store operators
said it will be difficult for lawmakers to keep convenience stores from
also selling wine and to limit them to selling only wine and beer.
Madison County Sheriff David Woolfork suggested convenience stores will
card less often than liquor store operators, while Peter Martin, a
Vanderbilt University psychiatry professor, said addiction to alcohol
Randy Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, said liquor referendums will damage the state.
fabric of Tennessee is made up of smaller communities," he said. "It
gets bad in these towns when you have these kinds of issues."
most of the members appeared to have little need for more input. The
little discussion that did take place largely came at the instigation of
supporters, who demanded data from opponents to back up their claims.
"I think some of their testimony was kind of bogus," said state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, the measure's sponsor.
At the end of the hearing, state Sen. Ken Yager,
the committee's chairman, said he intends to hold a vote on the
legislation at the panel's meeting today. Ketron predicted the vote
would be close, but he said he plans to press ahead with the measure
even if it stands a chance of defeat.
"This is the first time in the Senate we've brought it up to vote," he said. "I think it's time to do that."