GOP leaders urge liquor stores to deal

10:16 PM, Mar 7, 2013   |    comments
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +

By Chas Sisk / The Tennessean 

Republican leaders in the state House of Representatives said Thursday that now is the time for liquor interests to strike a deal over wine sales in grocery stores, rather than continuing to fight over the issue.

House Speaker Beth Harwell and Majority Leader Gerald McCormick told reporters that liquor store owners and distributors should not await the outcome on wine-in-grocery stores legislation before trying to negotiate other changes to Tennessee's liquor laws. GOP leaders, who have used their political clout to get the bill moving after years of debate, said they will not champion new rules for liquor stores late in the legislative session.

"I suspect they'll come to the table quicker than that. It would probably be in their best interest to do so," said McCormick, R-Chattanooga. "At the end, we're going to be trying to pass the budget and go home. ... We're not going to go over an extra week or two to talk about liquor stores."

Harwell cast a pair of decisive votes Wednesday in a House subcommittee to move along House Bill 610, which would let grocery stores sell wine if voters have signed off in a local referendum. The bill would represents the biggest change to the state's liquor laws since by-the-drink sales were legalized in 1967.

Harwell said she wanted to keep the bill alive to encourage both sides to work out a deal that would loosen some of the restrictions on the liquor industry. Suggestions have included letting liquor stores sell items other than alcohol and letting operators own more than one liquor store.

Liquor store owners, however, have shown few signs of budging. Chip Christianson, owner of J. Barleycorn's in Nashville and a board member of the Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association, said his colleagues are prepared to fight the issue to the end.

"We're not going to support it anywhere along the way," he said. "If we get beat, certainly we will sit down."

Wine-in-grocery stores legislation is expected to be brought up next week by the Senate Finance Committee. The bill also has to clear several more hurdles in the House.

Most Watched Videos