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
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."
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."
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